MADEMOISELLE FIFI (1944) B/W 70m dir: Robert Wise
w/Simone Simon, Kurt Kreuger, John Emery, Alan Napier, Jason Robards Sr.
Some travelers reveal their true colors during a carriage ride at the time of the Franco-Prussian War. In this expertly crafted B movie, which was produced by Val Lewton (a master at turning out quality pictures with almost no money to speak of), Simon shines as a laundress unafraid of expressing her patriotism and courage.
From Joel Siegel's book, Val Lewton: The Reality of Terror : "Mademoiselle Fifi is a brave yet delicate chamber film. The faults are so obviously those of bugetary limitations that once one has been touched by the intelligence and dignity of Lewton's production, most of the physical clumsiness --- some slipshod process screening, a cardboard cut-out which has to serve as the Cleresville church tower, one of the film's crucial sets --- can be easily overlooked. The only avoidable defect in the film is John Emery's Cornudet, the sort of florid, stagy performance that John Barrymore used to offer satirically during his last years. Robert Wise's direction is tasteful and tactful, his best piece of work for Lewton, and lacks only the subtle resonance that [Jacques] Tourneur's more graceful hand might have supplied.
"The screenplay, which seamlessly joins two [Guy de] Maupassant stories, Boule de Suif and Mademoiselle Fifi , carefully collapses the patriotic, outcast heroines of the two tales --- the plump prostitute, Elizabeth Rousset, and the Jewess Rebecca --- into a single character played by Simone Simon. (The censors managed to interfere with the intentions of Lewton and his scriptwriters: the character was made a laundress instead of a prostitute, and the Prussian officer's demand to sleep with her was altered to an obligatory invitation to share a private supper. But in both cases, the intentions come through undiminished.) Miss Simon gives her best American film performance as the French laundress whose dignity far eclipses that of her better-born, more affluent countrymen. ...
"Mademoiselle Fifi was not a popular success. The title and advertising campaign made those unfamiliar with Maupassant think that the film was another slice of Simone Simon ooh-la-la. Still, for its artistic honesty, its moral intricacy, and its determination to tell a few unpopular truths about how the middle classes behave in time of war, Mademoiselle Fifi is, in many important ways, the most noble of American wartime entertainments. Even today, Lewton's film has enough dignity to make such suspect ideals as patriotism seem possible and even palpable again."