Two from Brigitte Bardot
While she never attained the status of Marilyn Monroe, French sex kitten, Brigitte Bardot, was adored by the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol and provided the inspiration for Amy Winehouse’s beehive. She retired as her star was falling and is now better known for her work in animal rights her reactionary politics which have gotten her in hot water several times in recent years.
Naughty Girl, from 1955 is a delight, the 21-year-old Bardot plays Brigitte Latour, a gangster’s daughter under the temporary care of nightclub singer, Jean Clery (Jean Bretonnière). The hapless Clery is ordered to rescue her from her private school before her father’s enemies kidnap her. He expects a chubby girl with braces on her teeth but instead, finds his hands full of an out of control Bardot, part woman, part child and all temptation who takes over his life. She ruins his engagement and burns down his flat. Astonishingly, in one of those ‘my how things have changed’ moments, Clery slaps her across the face when she misbehaves, which straightens her out and all is well.
Sexy and gifted, Bardot is simply incredible. The following year she made And God Created Woman, directed by her first husband, Roger Vadim, which launched her as an international star. Like so many of Hollywood’s blonde bombshells, she became more famous for her celebrity, love affairs, marriages and scandals than she was for her acting. In 1962 she made Vie Privée, directed by Louis Malle and in 1963, she starred in Jean-Luc Godard’s critically acclaimed Contempt. But as her life spun out of control, the quality of her work became erratic.
Fast forward to Shalako, a badly scripted spaghetti western based on a Louis L’Amour novel. It’s 1968 and though she is only 34, Bardot is puffy and her teeth need work. Too much hard living, booze, drugs and lack of sleep have taken their toll. She can still play the vixen, but her powers have waned.
The surprise is finding Sean Connery slumming in this dog. At the time he was at the height of his fame as 007. Bardot plays one of a group of European aristocrats on a hunting tour of the American wild west. They refuse to abide by treaty agreements and find themselves in a battle to the death with the natives. He’s the guide who comes to their rescue, despatch a few hundred Injuns to save them from their arrogance and stupidity. Painful viewing all around.
Bardot survived Hollywood, unlike her peers Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. She appeared in a few more movies into the early 70’s and retired. Since then she has been a vociferous animal rights activist, but more often in the news for her right-wing politics. She’s easy to dislike – and yet, I can’t help admiring the survivor in her, surviving the public adoration and self destruction that too often accompanies that kind of celebrity. Having transcended ‘Bardot,’ she leaves us free to rediscover her early, unspoiled talent.