A spoiled woman (Danielle Darrieux) pawns the earrings her husband, a well-regarded French general (Charles Boyer), gave her because she's in debt and wants to keep him from finding out. Then she has an affair with a baron (famed actor-director Vittorio De Sica), who by chance buys her the earrings at a shop in Constantinople.
The Earrings of Madame de... (1953) is like a corny Warner Bros. soaper from the 1940s, only there's no Bette Davis to redeem it with her delicious histrionics. It's one of those films people talk about in breathless, measured tones: they admire its opulent beauty, its brilliant subversion of its own superficial superficialities, its assertion that even the vain, pampered rich can be tragic figures and unlucky in love. But more likely than not, you'll be completely bored within the first thirty minutes, despite all the whirling of the cameras as Madame de... dances the week away with her charming baron.
The director, Max Ophuls, apparently thought himself terribly clever in refusing to reveal Madame De's full name. Instead it comes off as a mere contrivance. (At least Daphne du Maurier's excuse for giving us an unnamed heroine in Rebecca was because she simply couldn't think of one; and there it actually worked with the theme of the book.) One might sympathize with Charles Boyer, if he weren't having an affair too. Although it's enjoyable to see Madame De... get her comeuppance at the end, when Charles Boyer forces her to give the earrings to a sick woman. Madame De... acts like losing the jewels is a worse tragedy than the plague. Perhaps the only depth in Madame de... that's of any interest is the fact that she's addicted to material possessions. But it's barely enough to sustain one's interest. The rich are always more entertaining when they aren't supposed to be pitied.
The music was pretty, though. And there are a few amusing bits--most of them involving the well-meaning jeweler who keeps being handed the earrings. There's also a duel at the end. So it can't be all bad. Overall, Madame de... passes for a bit of gooey society fluff made high-brow by effective lighting, music, camera-work, and being French. 100 min. ★★