I agree with the other reviewer who says this is a far superior film than Baz Luhrmann's awful film of the same name, that starred Ewan McGregor, the man with the worlds most sickly smile. Any film directed and co-written by John Huston is certainly worth a look at. Films about artists are relatively uncommon, because on the whole their lives are pretty boring, so of course it is those that led more colourful and lives that have become worthy of films sometimes dubious attention. Vincent Van Gough was of course a prime example, whose life Vincente Minnelli portrayed in his fine film "Lust for Life". Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was another with all the right credentials. Born to an aristocratic family, he suffered an an accident in his youth, breaking his right thigh bone. As a result of congenital health problems due to the families history of inbreeding, this never healed properly. Whilst his torso grew to adult size, his legs remained child sized, leaving him horribly misshapen. As a result, in later life he sought solace in alcohol, and often imbibed freely at the Moulin Rouge where many of his famous paintings were inspired. He also became familiar with quite a number of prostitutes, holding many wild parties. His favourite tipple was apparently half absinthe and half cognac in a wine goblet, a sure fire route to self destruction, which combined with the ravages of syphilis led to his unsurprising early demise at the age of 36. Excellent material for a good film, which Huston duly obliged with. Surely there is some one out there who can make the definitive film about the equally colourful life of Paul Gaugin!
"Moulin Rouge" is on the whole faithful to Lautrec's short but productive life. Huston understandably had to make a few concessions to fifties censorship, which was more stringent in those days. The early scenes in the "Moulin Rouge" are an absolute delight, picking up the period and Moulin atmosphere perfectly. The dancing is a whirling cacophony of delight, supported by some wonderful thigh slapping music. The film was made on location in Paris, and the street scenes reflect this authenticity. The Puerto Rican actor Jose Ferrer, whom Huston cut down to size, is convincing in his abrupt and erudite portrayal of Lautrec. Zsa Zsa Gabor is stunning in her role as the Moulin's principal singer, and seems to be lampooning herself in her fickleness with the opposite sex. As with "Lust for Life", there are some scenes of Lautrec's unique art. There are also some very impressive close ups of "Lautrec's hand at work. These were done by the artist Marcel Vertes who made a living in the years after the First World War forging Lautrec's work. He was able to sketch so quickly that a drawing could be completed in one shoot.
In John Huston's autobiography "An Open Book", he tells some fascinating stories about the making of the film. It was interesting to note the pains he took with regard to the films palette, as he called it. He hired a Life photographer to experiment with the colours used in still photography. Huston believed his film to be the first to dominate colour, rather than being dominated by it. I believe he has a valid point! The superb colour is a highlight of the film. Huston also mentions that some of the filming was watched by a fascinated Picasso, who apparently later tried to do imitations of Jose Ferrer walking on his knees. The film is a delight to watch even after all these years. Even when Huston only went through the motions, he made films that few other directors could match. I have had to deduct a star for the poor quality transfer by Wienerworld. The picture quality and sound are poor throughout. I am not normally one to pick up on this, but for those that are more discerning than me, this may be an issue, so be warned! The film is worthy of the full restoration package. Look out for the final scene which is genuinely moving, and an apt conclusion to this fine film.