With the exception of the brilliant 1971 black comedy Pretty Maids All In A Row—which memorably cast an aging Rock Hudson as a beloved high-school football coach who just happens to be a serial killer—Roger Vadim's reputation rests more on his skills as a womanizer than on his filmmaking prowess. The Svengali behind the early careers of Brigitte Bardot and Jane Fonda, Vadim created an international sensation with his debut, …And God Created Woman, a film considered groundbreaking in its time for its frank exploration of sexual mores. Viewed with more than 40 years of hindsight, Woman seems less transgressive in its sexuality than creepy and reactionary, viewing its sexually liberated heroine with a disturbing mixture of contempt and voyeurism. Woman was a massive commercial success when it came out in 1957, but its popularity clearly had less to do with its artistic worth than its beguiling and buxom leading lady. Bardot stars as an overripe French orphan who moves into a small town and proceeds to turn the men into a howling band of leering jackasses. Having trouble choosing among the man she loves (Christian Marquand), a man willing to make an honest woman out of her (Jean-Louis Trintignant), and an oily would-be sugar daddy (Curd Jürgens), Bardot comes close to destroying the lives of all those around her. Clearly viewing female sexuality as a force only marginally less dangerous than the hydrogen bomb, …And God Created Woman is an awful film full of stilted dialogue, egregious sexism, and ugly racism. But as a depiction of post-war masculinity attempting to come to terms with a new breed of woman, it's a historic bit of pop-culture sociology. Vadim's second film, 1958's The Night Heaven Fell, is a bigger-budgeted affair that benefits from its gorgeous use of Cinemascope technology. Operating more as a showcase for Cinemascope and Bardot than as a lovers-on-the-run thriller, The Night Heaven Fell is notable primarily for its resemblance to 1960's Breathless, a film that would change the face of cinema forever. Both focus on mismatched lovers on the run, both feature sullen male leads who accidentally commit heinous crimes, and both approach their characters from a distance. But whereas Breathless used its thin plot to reinvent filmmaking from scratch, Heaven primarily uses it to demonstrate just how much detail Cinemascope can show, and just what a nubile beauty his then-wife was; where Godard's leads were effortlessly iconic, Vadim's protagonists are sketchy and unpleasant. But while The Night Heaven Fell still leaves much to be desired artistically, this new transfer is a crisp, vivid marvel that gives an interesting but tremendously flawed film better treatment than it probably deserves.
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