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Max Ophuls in Hollywood
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The Exile

Max Ophuls had been in Hollywood for almost five years before he finally got the chance to direct his first American movie, The Exile (1947). Ophuls was no neophyte, however; he'd already directed fourteen features in Germany and France. The masterful German-born filmmaker would go on to make three further American movies (all first-rate) before returning to France to direct four more (also superb), before his death in 1957. Of the four Hollywood films, The Exile is the least-known and seen.

In an interview with Jacques Rivette and Francois Truffaut published in 1978, Ophuls recalled that it was fellow director Robert Siodmak who helped him land The Exile: "After four years of unemployment, I was able to work thanks to a friendly gesture by Robert Siodmak. He said to me, 'If you want to go back to Europe and find work, you must have made at least one film in Hollywood or else no one will have confidence in you.' He did what was necessary to give me a chance at Universal. And that's how, within a week, I was hired to make The Exile with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr."

The film is a swashbuckler in the mode of Douglas Fairbanks, Senior, with the younger Fairbanks here showing off some dashing swordplay and acrobatics in a tale of England's King Charles II exiled to Holland in 1660. In fact, Fairbanks even uses a sword in this film that his father had used in the making of The Iron Mask (1929). According to studio publicity, Fairbanks enjoyed doing many of his own stunts, preparing for one shot in which he had to drop nine feet by repeatedly practicing the drop from fourteen feet -- so that the lesser fall would look easy. Ironically, at one point he actually fell nineteen feet in an on-set accident, but was not hurt.

The Exile was much more to Fairbanks than simply a starring vehicle; he also produced it and wrote the script. He had already produced or associate-produced four previous films in his career, in both England and America, but the addition of a screenwriting credit was something new, and this film therefore represented an investment of energy and personal responsibility unlike any other of his movie projects before. Having been absent from screens during WWII (and then acting in the splashy Sinbad the Sailor [1947]), Fairbanks was determined to establish himself as a full-fledged producer. He set up his new outfit The Fairbanks Company with a distribution deal at Universal, and The Exile was the first of a few pictures he made there.

Ophuls said he enjoyed great creative freedom on The Exile but "had very little faith in that film... [Fairbanks and I] had great fun making [it] -- perhaps a little too much, because frequently I found myself shooting a scene without knowing who was drawing a sword against whom, why they were fighting, why killing... In short, I found it hard to follow. I think that shows in the film, but I greatly enjoyed working with Fairbanks."

Probably the greatest benefit this picture had for Ophuls was that it got him his next directing gig. The Exile's high technical quality, much noted in the press and around Hollywood, attracted the attention of producer John Houseman, who hired Ophuls to direct Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), one of his finest achievements.

Overall, however, reviews of The Exile were mild at best, with Variety complaining that "too much time is consumed in reaching its exiting stages, with a script which sometimes leans toward antiquated proportions.... Maria Montez, though getting co-star credit, is in only one long sequence, and is not always understandable." The New York Times declared, "Mr. Fairbanks speaks a line more facilely than he writes it."

However, all the critics lauded "newcomer" Paule Croset in the role of Katie, with Variety calling her a "refreshing new personality," and James Agee writing in Time, "Her performance is as clear as a brook, and audiences may well object that the camera does not linger long on her cool, inviting beauty."

The Tahitian-born actress had already had several credited roles in low-budget RKO programmers (including Val Lewton's The Body Snatcher [1945]), and The Exile was an attempt to reinvent herself as something more. While it was not uncommon for actors to be "introduced" to the screen after many prior appearances, perhaps in this case there actually was some confusion in the press because Croset had previously been credited as Rita Corday, the name by which she is still best remembered. She had other names, too: her birth name was Jeanne Paule Teipotemarga, and after The Exile she used the names Rita Croset and Paula Corday. All the name changes didn't help her career, however, and she retired from the screen in the mid-1950s.

The Exile was released in sepia tone, which had been a not-terribly-uncommon sight during the war years as studios sought to save money by limiting the use of Technicolor. Sepia was seen as a good-enough substitute when a film story lent itself to color but color was not available. In this case, it was also the basis for a joke around Hollywood: since The Exile opened at around the same time as the big hit Forever Amber (1947), it garnered the mocking nickname of "Forever Dark Brown."

The Exile actually performed quite well at the box office initially, even against Forever Amber, but when Captain from Castile opened on a then-unprecedented 475 screens, The Exile was squashed at the box office and ultimately became a modest money loser.

Producer: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Director: Max Ophuls
Screenplay: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.; Cosmo Hamilton (novel); Clemence Dane (screenplay, uncredited)
Cinematography: Franz Planer; Hal Mohr, George Robinson (both uncredited)
Art Direction: Hilyard M. Brown, Bernard Herzbrun
Music: Frank Skinner
Film Editing: Ted J. Kent
Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (Charles II Stuart), Maria Montez (Countess Anbella de Courteuil), Paule Croset (Katie), Henry Daniell (Colonel Ingram), Nigel Bruce (Sir Edward Hyde), Robert Coote (Dick Pinner), Otto Waldis (Jan), Eldon Gorst (Seymour), Milton Owen (Wilcox), Colin Keith-Johnston (Captain Bristol).
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