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Home Vision Entertainment presents
"Shame on you!. Trying to exploit your niece. I wondered what a satyr looked like. I've got one in the family. My aunt's husband no less!"
DVD ReviewDirector Roger Vadim stands along the likes of Francois Truffaut, Louis Malle and Jean-Luc Godard as one of the dominant names in the French New Wave school of filmmakers from the late 1950s through the 1960s. Like his compatriots, Vadim made daring films, especially to the relatively prim and proper American audiences of that time. In the States, his films were relegated to art houses, where his rebellious sexual themes would be theoretically nestled away from the eagerly impressionable minds of American moviegoers, despite the fact that audiences would seek out Vadim's works to ogle his latest starlet.
Here is one of my favorite Vadim quotes: "You wouldn't ask Rodin to make an ugly sculpture, or me to make a film with an ugly woman." He knows of what he speaks, since he is the man that chiseled the unbridled sexuality of Brigitte Bardot into celluloid with his 1956 directorial debut of ...And God Created Woman. Vadim and Bardot had been married since 1952, and though they would divorce in 1957, the two would continue to work together on a number of films. With the launch of international cinema's newest sex symbol, Vadim quickly cast the stunning Bardot in his 1957 release of Les Bijoutiers du Clair de Lune, or The Night Heaven Fell, remastered and released on DVD by Home Vision Entertainment.
Based on Albert Vidalie's novel The Moonlight Jewelers, Bardot stars as Ursula, a sexy, but virginal, young woman who leaves her convent(!) to vacation in a small village in rural Spain, where she is to stay with her Aunt Florentine (Alida Valli) and Uncle, the Count Ribera (Pepe Nieto). On her first day in Spain, Ursula meets rugged Lamberto (Stephen Boyd), a man who has some major issues with the Count, whom he blames for causing the death of his sister. This doesn't prevent Ursula from falling in love at first sight with Lamberto, and of course this leads to some dramatic confrontations. The Count is a perverted creep, constantly pawing at his niece Ursula, and Lamberto's anger leads to violence, which turn him into a wanted man.
But The Night Heaven Fell is not simply the story of Ursula and Lamberto, and their lusty, bad boy/good girl attraction to each other. Aunt Florentine herself is a wee bit on the sexually frustrated side, and it is her own desires for Lamberto that stirs things up. As the two women struggle with their feelings, it becomes evident that Lamberto the stud is drawn to both. Secrets and betrayal bubble beneath the surface, and by the time the film hits midpoint, it is unclear as to where his true feelings lie.
Much can be said for Vadim's filmmaking skills, though this film certainly pales to the far superior ....And God Created Woman (the original, not his tepid 1988 remake). Here, the sweeping Spanish scenery, shot in the vastness of Cinemascope, seems to often overpower the actors, and that is not something you wish to see in a Bardot film. Likewise, the script lurches around awkwardly during the first twenty minutes, enough to really test my mettle about actually wanting to finish the film.
The downfall is the agonizing pacing of the script, which meanders here and there, with only occasional scenes of substance. This is not indicative of a typical Vadim film, though his strong visual style is always present. For the most part, the acting is adequate, with Valli proving her worth as a truly underrated actress. It's just that the overall experience is not entirely engaging.
However, a Vadim film, if anything, is a study in beauty, and Bardot is really what The Night Heaven Fell is all about, when all is said and done. She literally makes Marilyn Monroe look like a frumpy librarian. Bardot, with those wonderfully pouty lips, exudes sex appeal like no one else, and while perhaps not the world's best actress, she does manage to combine a steamy blend of young lust and innocence. Vadim provides many tempting shots of Bardot throughout, but it was her brief nude scene here that was considered "scandalous" in 1958, and only served to escalate her notoriety as a wanton sex symbol.
For me, a highpoint of The Night Heaven Fell was the pairing of Bardot with Alida Valli. Valli, who in her twilight years would appear in Suspiria, first captured my eye with her stellar turns in The Third Man (1947) and most notably The Paradine Case (1949). I recall watching The Paradine Case years and years ago, and being utterly transfixed by Valli's performance, and her timeless beauty. Here Vadim cast her as the not-quite middle aged aunt, who Ursula convinces can still be a sexual being. Valli can deliver more intensity with a single stare than most actresses can do with six pages of dialogue.
The Night Heaven Fell is not a completely memorable film, and the script is burdened with barely enough content to last 93 minutes. From a historical perspective though, it is easy to understand the unabashed sex appeal of Bardot, and how she became the fantasy woman for so many men. Thanks to Vadim, we still have that to hold on to.
Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C+
Image Transfer Review: HVE has presented The Night Heaven Fell in a 2.35:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer. I'm not certain to what lengths HVE made restoration attempts, but the final product is far from perfect. Perhaps due it's age, this image transfer is plagued by countless nicks, scratches and blemishes. Colors are washed out, with flesh tones appearing slightly unnatural. Edge enhancement and image ringing is evident quite often throughout.
It should be noted that a scene that was originally cut from the film has been reinstated by HVE, during Chapter 18. However a line and a half of dialogue could not be found, but subtitles are provided for the missing lines.
Originally filmed in Cinemascope, the transfer does capture Vadim's broad directorial vision extremely well.
Image Transfer Grade: C
Audio Transfer Review: Tinny French mono is the solitary audio option offered by HVE. While I am generally not bothered by mono tracks, I found this particular one to be marred by occasionally distorted dialogue (despite it being in French). Georges Auric quirky score, which often sounds as if it was lifted from another film entirely, is the only audio element that sounds consistent.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Plucking The Daisy, ...And God Created Woman
Extras Review: HVE has not gone overboard with extras, but what they have included is fair. In addition to a French language widescreen trailer for The Night Heaven Fell, two other Bardot feature trailers are provided. A bad English dub of Vadim's classic ...And God Created Woman, and a French language version of Plucking The Daisy are included.
An informative, yet brief, three page insert booklet on Bardot and Vadim has been written by Michael Frost and Chris Gore.
A text-based DVD Bardot filmography and 19 chapter stops round out the bonus materials.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsThe Night Heaven Fell is a weak film blessed with two legendary film goddesses, Brigitte Bardot and Alida Valli, directed by a man known for his unending pursuit of beauty. Vadim's renegade filmmaking seems almost meek by today's standards, and while this may have shocked filmgoers in 1958, it doesn't really seem too dangerous now. It is the almost uneventful script that serves to bury this title into the tunnels of obscurity, with only the magnetism of Bardot and Valli to create a modern blip on the radar.
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