JUSTINE gets a couple of rare screenings as part of the Dirk Bogarde retrospective (only his post-1960 career) at the London National Film Theatre - I shall have to amble along and savour it on the widescreen again. It has been unseen for decades but it was a treat to get a copy recently, an enjoyable 20th Century Fox version of the Durrell books set in Alexandria and rather a botched movie. It was began in Tunisia in '68 with director Philip Strick (who did ULYSSES), but the project was then recalled to the Fox lot in California, with George Cukor taking over. Cukor and Aimee had one of THE famous feuds, as they did not get on AT ALL. The fascinating international cast though has Dirk Bogarde giving another terrific performance as Pursewarden, young Michael York as Darnley the narrator who falls in love with the mysterious Justine, also Anna Karina, John Vernon, Robert Forster, Philippe Noiret and Cliff Gorman as one of those dancing girls.
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I just like the look of the film, those mysterious locations and Aimee being very enigmatic, looking alluring with that little girl voice, she seems incommunicative though, as though she does not want to be there – it was silly though to use the nude body double seen in long shot for the beach scene with the horses. Leon Shamroy makes it all look terrific and there is a nice score by Jerry Goldsmith. It really has the look and texture almost of a Von Sternberg picture, and remains one of the great good bad movies. I used to have a photo of Anouk as Justine on my wall back in 1969...by the late '60s everything Moroccan and Tunisian were suddenly part of the new hippie chic, as movies like DUFFY, MAROC 7 and PERFORMANCE showed.
It just looks terrific with those Tunisian locations, Vernon and Forster are the warring brothers Nessim and Narouz, and there are masked balls, belly dancers and lots of intrigue among the expats in Alexandria where everyone seems to be hiding guilty secrets. Bogarde is ideal as Pursewarden - by this time Anouk had become a very big star indeed, having been in movies since the late 40s, those Fellinis and UN HOMME ET UNE FEMME had added to her allure, but by the time JUSTINE she just wanted to be away with her new love Albert Finney, so it seems she had no real interest in the film and didn't film again until 1976 by which time her marriage to Finney was over.
York is the young narrator describing in the voiceover how Justine seemed to move in a golden glow..."blood-sister to a thousand tyrant queens". Everyone is in thrall to the fascinating Justine, the seemingly amoral wife of a wealthy Egyptian, biding her time in 1930s Alexandria with a slew of lovers, who spends her time looking for a lost child in the brothels of Alexandria, Anna Karina is the less fortunate prostitute who innocently lets slip Justine's real political interests to Pursewarden, after her romance with York has finished.
It is a condensed version of Lawrence Durrell's brilliant literary classic "Alexandria Quartet", about the sophisticated game of international intrigue and espionage in Alexandria between the first and second world wars with subtle character portraits from a range of British and European actors at the top of their game; it is just a perfect film of its time and place, late 60s, Europe and Hollywood combining. I can't wait to see it again .....