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Mademoiselle Fifi
Alternate Title: Guy de Maupassant's Mademoiselle Fifi
Director: Robert Wise (Dir)
Release Date:   1944
Production Date:   23 Mar--late Apr 1944
Duration (in mins):   69
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Cast:   Simone Simon (A little laundress [Elizabeth Rousset])  
    John Emery (Jean Cornudet)  
    Kurt Kreuger (Lt. von Eyrick called "Fifi")  
    Alan Napier (The Count de Breville)  
    Helen Freeman (His Countess)  
    Jason Robards (A wholesaler in wine)  
    Norma Varden (His wife)  
    Romaine Callender (A manufacturer)  
    Fay Helm (His wife)  
    Edmund Glover (A young priest)  
    Charles Waldron (The curé of Cleresville)  
    Mayo Newhall (M. Follenvie)  
    Lillian Bronson (Mme. Follenvie)  
    Alan Ward (Coach driver)  
    Allan Lee (Coach driver)  
    Daun Kennedy (Maid)  
    William von Wymetal (Major)  
    Max Willenz (Captain)  
    Marc Cramer (Lieutenant)  
    John Good (Fritz)  
    Frank Mayo (Sergeant at inn)  
    Margaret Landry (Eva)  
    Rosemary LaPlanche (Blondini)  
    Marie Lund (Helene)  
    Margie Stewart (Pamela)  
    Violet Wilson (Aunt Marie)  
    Tom Burton (Ulhan)  
    Steve Winston (Ulhan)  
    Paul Marion (Devoir)  
    Richard Drumm (German sentry)  
    Victor Cutler (Soldier waiter)  
    Ed Allen    

Summary: In 1870, during the Franco-Prussian war, the little French village of Cleresville is occupied by Prussian invaders. In defiance of the ruthless German officer Lt. von Eyrick, known as Fifi because he proclaims the town to be his "Fifidom," the curé of Cleresville refuses to ring the church bell. Meanwhile, in the town of Rouen, the young priest who is to replace the retiring curé prays at the tomb of Joan of Arc and then boards the coach bound for Cleresville. Among his fellow passengers are the Count and Countess de Breville; a wine wholesaler and his wife; a merchant and his wife; the outspoken liberal Jean Cornudet and Elizabeth Rousset, a poor laundress returning home to Cleresville. On the long cold journey through the barren French countryside, Cornudet denounces the bourgeoise among the passengers as corrupt and self- serving. Although Elizabeth has been snubbed by the others, she offers to share her hamper of food with them and later voices her defiance of the Prussian occupiers. When the coach stops at an inn for the night, von Eyrick, a guest at the inn, demands to speak to Elizabeth. She returns from her interview flustered, and the next morning, von Eyrick refuses to allow the coach to continue unless Elizabeth agrees to dine with him. When Elizabeth refuses to eat with her enemies, her fellow travelers applaud her patriotism. As the next day dawns, however, they grow impatient and denounce her scruples. When Cordunet, who has expressed his admiration for Elizabeth, concurs with the others, she relents and agrees to dine with von Eyrick. In a private dining room upstairs, von Eyrick tries to humiliate Elizabeth and break her spirit, while downstairs, the others celebrate. The next morning, when Von Eyrick announces that he plans to ride the coach to Cleresville, the passengers welcome him and snub Elizabeth. In Cleresville, Elizabeth, von Eyrick and the priest leave the coach, and after the others begin to make snide comments about the laundress, Cornudet denounces them for betraying her and goes to beg her forgiveness. Although Elizabeth refuses his apology, her defiance has renewed his sense of patriotism, and he vows to defend the bell against the Prussian soldiers. Meanwhile, at the chateau, the bored Prussian officers decide to throw a party and send the corporal to town to find five beautiful girls to entertain them. When the corporal states that the Prussians will take their business away from her aunt's laundry unless Elizabeth joins them, she has no choice but to attend the party. Before the festivities begin, the Prussian captain decides to visit the church with his troops to ring the bell, but he is met by an armed Cordunet, who shoots him and runs away. Learning that Elizabeth has gone to the chateau, Cordunet follows her there. Meanwhile, at the party, Elizabeth is paired with the haughty von Eyrick. Infuriated by his boasts of French cowardice, she stabs him and flees the chateau. When Cornudet pulls her into a passageway to protect her from the soldiers, her faith is restored by his newfound patriotism. The two find refuge in the church, and when the Prussians order the bell to be rung at von Eyrick's funeral, the priest agrees, knowing that Elizabeth has already struck the first blow for freedom by killing the Prussian officer. As the bell peals, signaling an awakening of pride and resistance in the village, Cornudet leaves to join the resistance fighters. 

Production Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Distribution Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Robert Wise (Dir)
  Sam Ruman (Asst dir)
Producer: Val Lewton (Prod)
  Sid Rogell (Supv prod)
Writer: Josef Mischel (Scr)
  Peter Ruric (Scr)
Photography: Harry Wild (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino (Art dir)
  Walter E. Keller (Art dir)
Film Editor: J. R. Whittredge (Ed)
Set Decoration: Darrell Silvera (Set dec)
  Al Fields (Set dec)
Costumes: Edward Stevenson (Gowns)
Music: C. Bakaleinikoff (Mus dir)
  Werner Heymann (Mus)
Sound: Francis M. Sarver (Rec)
  James G. Stewart (Re-rec)
Special Effects: Vernon L. Walker (Spec eff)
Make Up: Mel Berns (Makeup artist)
Production Misc: Carl F. Cook (Tech adv)
Country: United States

Source Text: Based on the short story "Mademoiselle Fifi" by Guy de Maupassant in Mademoiselle Fifi and Other Stories (Paris, 1882) and his short story "Boule-de-suif" in Les Soirées de Médan (Paris, 1880).
Authors: Guy de Maupassant

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. 2/8/1944 dd/mm/yyyy LP12791

PCA NO: 10066
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: RCA Sound System

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Historical
 
Subjects (Major): Class distinction
  France
  Franco-Prussian War, 1870--1871
  Military occupation
  Patriotism
  Transformation
  Uprisings
 
Subjects (Minor): Bells
  Churches
  France
  French
  Laundresses
  Priests
  Prussians
  Snobs and snobbishness
  Stagecoaches

Note: The working title of this film was The Silent Bell . In the opening credits, the title appears as "Guy de Maupassant's Mademoiselle Fifi ." The film opens with the following prologue: "1870 The Franco Prussian War. Then as in our time, there was an occupied and an unoccupied territory." According to a memo contained in the RKO Legal Files, in Oct 1943, producer Val Lewton, hoping to enhance his reputation by moving out of the horror film genre, proposed that the studio make a period piece based on the stories of de Maupassant starring Erich von Stroheim and Simone Simon. Charles Koerner, RKO's production chief at the time, responded that although he believed the studio could exploit the use of de Maupassant's name in the project, he was fearful of the film's subject matter. Koerner's reservations proved justified as in previews of the film, the audience objected to the ending, which they viewed as showing submission to the Prussians. The film fared poorly at the box office, losing more than any previous Lewton film. According to a pre-production news item in HR , the studio negotiated with George Sanders to play the role of "Fifi." Another news item in HR adds that the snow sequences were shot around Big Bear, CA. Captain Carl F. Cook, who served as the film's technical advisor, was a German Naval officer in World War I, according to HR . Other films based on de Maupassant's story "Boule de Suif" were the 1934 Russian film Boule de Suif and the 1945 French film of the same title. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   29 Jul 1944.   
Daily Variety   27 Jul 44   p. 3.
Film Daily   28 Jul 44   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Nov 43   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Nov 43   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Mar 44   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Mar 44   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Mar 44   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Apr 44   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Jul 44   p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   24 Jun 44   p. 1958.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   29 Jul 44   pp. 2017-18.
Variety   2 Aug 44   p. 10.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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