Douglas Sirk, king of the ‘50s Hollywood melodrama, considered A Scandal in Paris one of his favorite works. In an impassioned 1998 essay for Film Comment, Tag Gallagher champions the film as an optimistic variation of the dark themes Sirk spun more famously in the nihilistic Written on the Wind. In the latter film, characters that society has deemed dissolute aim for redemption but end up being shot down. In A Scandal in Paris, George Sanders’s witty con man (who takes the name of François Eugène Vidocq from a gravestone) is allowed to choose the path of virtue, and because he’s made to understand the implications of his sullied purity (through his romantic interest in a wide-eyed young woman), he ends up succeeding. Having spent much of his adulthood inside prison, there’s really no place for the Vidocq to go but up. Following an escape and a string of crimes (most of them dealing with seducing unsuspecting women), Vidocq finds himself in a position of either pulling off the biggest scam of his career or putting an end to his criminal exploits. The notion of duality within every human and how their actions often differ from their private motivations (one of Sirk’s trademark motifs), is all but given a catchphrase when a priest exclaims, “Within all of us is a saint as well as a dragon.” Therese (Signe Hasso), the daughter of Paris’s police commissioner, takes this to heart and decides the only way to appeal to the dashing Vidocq is to tap the dragon within herself. In the film’s key scene, she attempts to make a romantic pass at him by offering to be his partner in crime. It is when Vidocq sees his notion of idealized purity about to plunge headlong into criminal activities that he makes the conscious choice to slay his own personal dragon (which coincides nicely with the killing of his partner in crime). It’s probably safe to say that the earnest A Scandal in Paris won’t ever approach the level of acceptance accorded to All That Heaven Allows and Imitation of Life in the world of postmodern cinephilia, but the finale isn’t without a smidgen of Sirkian irony. Even after Vidocq comes clean to the entire city of Paris and goes through the most extreme sort of redemption imaginable, Therese’s little sister tells to him that she always knew he was up to no good. “No man is a saint,” she taunts. Like a kid version of Lauren Bacall in Written on the Wind, the polite jab she throws hints at the way polite society never forgets (or fully forgives) a man’s ill past.
- United Artists
- 100 min
- Douglas Sirk
- Ellis St. Joseph
- George Sanders, Signe Hasso, Carole Landis, Akim Tamiroff, Gene Lockhart, Jo Ann Marlowe, Alma Kruger, Alan Napier
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