The great Max Ophuls was born Maximilian Oppenheimer in Saarbrücken, in 1902. When he eventually left the bosom of his disapproving Jewish merchant family at age 20 to enter show business, he changed his name to Max Ophuls to avoid any family embarrassment. Between 1931 and 1955 he completed 24 feature films in a number of countries. He died in 1958 during the filming of Les Amants de Montparnasse, a bio-pic of the painter Modigliani, which was completed by and credited to Jacques Becker.
Names, partial names, missing names or hidden names are a recurring element of many of Max Ophuls’ movies – Lisa in Letter from an Unknown Woman, Madame de…, and Evelyn, whom everyone calls “Babs” in Sans Lendemain. Identity, performance, the imposition of roles, the hammering of time, and the perpetually moving camera moving us physically, emotionally, and reminding us as ever of encroaching time and its relentless passage, are pre-dominant features of his work.
Sans Lendemain can be loosely translated as No Tomorrow. It was the penultimate picture Ophuls made in France in 1939 before escaping the coming Occupation and moving to the USA. He had a strong commercial producer in the form of Gregor Rabinovitch and his first tier crew included the outstanding Lighting Cameraman Eugène Schufftan. As well, there is a brilliant and very commercial music score by the budding film composer Allan Gray..
Sans Lendemain should be viewed in concert with at least two other Ophuls movies which have a show business milieu, notably La Signora di Tutti from 1934 and Lola Montes in 1955. Signora has a flashback narration scheme, copied later by Max in Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), and Lola has a similarly oblique, “recalled” chain of narrations as Lola spends a single night in the circus being sold to the audience by Peter Ustinov’s ringmaster. Babs/Evelyn in Sans Lendemain has a linear, temporally direct narrative with only one medium length flashback sequence in the middle of the picture.
The film opens with Schufftan’s camera dollying in from a wide street exterior of “La Sirene”, the clip joint where Evelyn/Babs works as one of four topless nude dancers. The girls are called “Les Quatres Saisons”.We quickly see Babs at her wits end, and in the second sequence of the movie Max shows her at home tenderly bathing her young son, in a very clear homage to Dietrich bathing her son “Johnny”, in Sternberg’s Blonde Venus from 1932. Babs’ child financially chains his mother inadvertently to this dismal job as low rent showgirl, and later to prostitution.
Thus does the movie present the first two men who “own” Babs: the MC of the show, and her son. Allan Gray’s score for the club scene settles into a heart racing jazz set scored to pump up the rhythm for the exposition. As Babs moves into the second sequence post show night she has a fatal chance meeting with an old flame, Georges, and fate throws up an opportunity she should not take but memory and desire compel her to. So Georges becomes the third man to “own” her, as she goes into crippling debt to adopt a new “classier” image and apartment to impress him, and reignite their affair. Thus remembered ecstasy and memory, and time past, drive the present and the future into tragedy.
To enable this Babs goes to see the man she most dreads in Paris, a gangster who runs a loans shark racket for desperate women in what looks to be a pyramid prostitution scheme. …
It beggars belief to me that this film, let alone the other half dozen from Max’s French 30s period are still unknown. Gaumont recently restored Sans Lendemain and De Mayerling à Sarajevo from the same year. We need more Ophuls. Much more Ophuls.
Notes on the Restoration
Gaumont is a film studio founded by the engineer-turned-inventor Léon Gaumont (1864–1946), in 1895. It is the first and oldest film company in the world. The 2K restoration by Gaumont is one of many being undertaken by the company to bring its archival treasures back to life. The restoration was supported by the Centre Nationale du Cinéma et de l’Image Animée and premiered at LAB 80 Film in Bergamo, Italy in May 2017.
Dir: Max Ophuls, Prod: Gregor Rabinovitch, Gaumont, Sc: Jean Villeme, Curt Alexander, Jean Jacot, André-Paul Antoine, Ph: Eugène Schufftan, Paul Portier, Des: Max Douy, Eugene Lourié, Laure Lourié, Ed: Jean Sacha, Bernard Séjourné, Music: Allan Gray.
Edwige Feuillère (Evelyn“Babs”Morin), George Rigaud (Dr Georges Brandon), Daniel Lecourtois (Dr Armand Péreux), Mady Berry (Mme Midu), Michel Francois (Pierre)
France, 1939, 82 minutes, French, English subtitles.
Notes by David Hare