Friday, January 27, 2023

Review: "And God Created Woman", by Simone Colette

Review: "And God Created Woman", by Simone Colette    

by Rich Horton

The last book I read, Erasmus -- with Freckles, was made into a movie, Dear Brigitte, with Brigitte Bardot. So I figured why not read this book I've had hanging around for a while: "And God Created Woman", a 1961 novelization of the 1956 movie that made Bardot a star, Et Dieu ... Crea La Femme. The "author", Simone Colette, was likely a house name for an American writer working for Popular Library, which at that time published three novelizations of notorious foreign films: Ecstasy, the 1933 German-Czech film starring Hedy Lamarr; The Lovers, the 1958 French film starring Jeanne Moreau, which was the subject of the case in which Justice Potter Stewart declared of pornography "I know it when I see it"; and this movie.

The book itself is competently written, though the signs of movie novelization are all over it. The story concerns Juliette, an 18 year old orphan just discovering the effect she has on men, and accustomed to sunbathing nude and such. As the book opens a rich older man, Eric Carradine, who is angling to build a hotel in St. Tropez, is trying to make Juliette his mistress. She is interested, but her real attraction is to Antoine, the oldest of three brothers in a family that owns a failing boat repair business on property that Carradine needs for his hotel. Antoine's father is dead, Antoine is working in Toulon, and his younger brothers, Michel and the teenaged Christian, maintain the boatyard. 

Juliette's guardian, the prudish Mme. Morin, threatens to send her back to the orphanage, and Juliette looks for refuge, first with Eric, but then she encounters Antoine, who is back in town dealing with Eric's attempt to buy his family's property. After a couple of days seeing Antoine and dancing with him, while Antoine and his family refuse Eric's offer. Antoine hints that Juliette might accompany him back to Toulon, but he ends up avoiding her (he's got the boss's daughter to marry, even though she's cross-eyed.)

Juliette, again tempted by Eric, but still threatened with the orphanage, shockingly decides to marry the meek middle brother Michel. Meanwhile, Antoine is back in town, because Eric made an alternate offer -- Antoine can run Eric's boatyard, with he and his brothers drawing generous salaries. Juliette is trying to be a good wife to Michel, but Antoine is a constant temptation. Things come to a head with a storm, and an emergency at the boatyard, and Juliette and Antoine taking off in a boat and running into trouble. After they reach the shore, the inevitable happens (described (by Juliette, and also as written in the book) as a rape, though the Wikipedia entry on the movie claims Juliette seduces Antoine -- is the movie different?) ... leading to a confrontation with Michel -- which, ambiguously perhaps, seems to resolve in his favor.

It has to be said that whatever shock Juliette's actions might have provoked in 1956 seems all but gone now -- she's just a young woman playing around a bit, not betraying anyone really (until the end) -- and, actually, she hardly ever actually has sex. The movie (and novel) is very much a product of its time. Really, based on descriptions (I've seen none of the three movies Popular Library novelized as mentioned above) the actions in Ecstasy and The Lovers were somewhat more transgressive and a lot more interesting. 

As I said, the novel clearly reads like a novelization, often with a by the numbers feel as the scenes pass by. And the sensuality which was obviously a big part of the movie's appeal just doesn't come through. Add the fact that the Eric Carradine character was shoehorned into the movie at the last minute, because the financiers wanted a role for Curd Jurgens -- and the novel just can't really adequately account for his oddly insignificant role. The movie is probably entertaining -- and to be fair the novel is well enough done that its readable -- but I do think it's a case where what was need was the presence of actors to sell the story. 

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