The Twilight Girls
review by Gregory Avery, 15 August 2003 

The Twilight Girls might have worked best as a satire, maybe in the style of the old radio and T.V. daytime dramas: "And now...The Twilight Girls." (upswell of music, something like "Love is a Many Splendored Thing") "The continuing story of those girls who are too old to be children, but too young to be adults..." (Or, as the movie puts it, "no longer children, but not yet women".)

"Girls! Girls! Have you heard?" says Monica (Christine Carère), running up to her teenage schoolchums at the exclusive French boarding school Les Vallons. "There's a new girl enrolling, and you'll all get to meet her!" Catharine (Marie-Hélène Arnaud) is told by the school headmistress (Gaby Morlay) that she must trade in her city duds (by Dior) for a conventional school uniform (long-sleeve blouse, cravat, and pleated skirt), and that she'll have to get a more sensible hairstyling, as well. Catherine is moody and mysterious, a loner, occasionally casting a wistful glance at the other girls, and there are secrets about her hidden past. A hidden past! Those wistful glances...could it be, could it be, that she is maybe that dark bride of Sappho come to, according to the stereotype, drive all the girls mad with desire and turn the place into a hotbed of repressed sexuality? And what actually happened to her father, and why is she enrolling in the school so late in the academic year? Did she get into some trouble, and was she kicked out of some august institution? And that little girl who peeks at Catherine's clothes and perfume and pretends to sleepwalk at night so she can raid the pantry for strawberry jam, is that...CATHERINE DENEUVE????

La Deneuve did make her film debut, at age thirteen and under the name of "Cathy Dorléac", in this film, originally made in France as Les Collégiennes (The Schoolgirls) by director André Hunebelle in 1957. She appears in two scenes, set in the school cafeteria, as one of the girls who sits at the end of the table where the main characters are assigned to eat. She has one line -- "Marlon Brando!" However, the eyes, the features, the profile are clearly present and unmistakable (even if you have to hit the "pause" button to confirm). The part of Adelaide, who boards with the "little" girls at the school and whose scenes were initially cut out of the picture when it was released in the U.S., is played by "Sylvie Dorléac", who is...Sylvie Dorléac, sister of Catherine and Françoise Dorléac. When Françoise decided to enter the acting profession, Catherine took their mother's surname, Deneuve, while Françoise appeared under their father's name, Dorléac. (and was embarked upon a potentially illustrious career when she perished in a car accident, at age twenty-five, in 1967.) Sylvie Dorléac went on to appear in one more film, Les Petites Chats, in 1965, and allegedly dubbed Janina Faye's part in the French-language version of the Hammer film Horror of Dracula (1958).

Les Collégiennes tells the story of how Monica's crush on Catherine at first helps facilitate Catherine's romance with Dean (Henri Guisol), a young composer who wears tennis whites and is writing a concerto (which sounds like the "Cornish Rhapsody" Margaret Lockwood pounded out on the concert grand in the 1944 Love Story). When the school authorities find out that Catherine and Dean intend to elope, they take her out of the "big" girls' dormitory and, for her own good, lock her in a room in the teachers' quarters at night (I hope they left her with a chamber pot). Monica then turns so possessive that she withholds letters that Dean has been writing to Catherine, even after Catherine falls down a flight of stairs and winds up in the infirmary, wasting away, thinking that Dean doesn't love her anymore. (And, no, she can't call him on the phone -- this is a 1950s girls' school, where they can't use the phone -- so the letters are the only lines of communication.)

When Radley Metzger got ahold of the picture for U.S. release, he had something different in mind (including changing the title). Spicing things up a bit, he filmed new footage which was shot and staged so that it could be cut into Hunebelle's movie in such a way that you almost can't tell the difference. After lights-out, in the "big" girls' dormitory, Simone says she's too hot and takes off her pajama top, explaining that she sleeps better that way -- and, judging by how top-heavy Simone is, no wonder she gets warm at night. This turns into a running subplot, replete with sirens and bells to alert the audience as to the next forthcoming unveiling ("Now, I want you ALL to keep your pajama tops on!"), and the girl who sleeps next to Simone, a comely lass named Danielle, is encouraged to doff her top in bed, as well -- she'll like it. Funny thing is, Simone and Danielle never appear in any of the other scenes with the other actresses. (And Danielle is supposed to be played by Georgina Spelvin, who would later appear in a famous Seventies adult film, The Devil in Miss Jones. I can't attest to this, so we'll have to take their word on it.)

Metzger's other additional footage landed him and the film in the New York State Supreme Court. In Les Collégiennes, Monica holds-hands at night with Marthe (Estella Blain), who sleeps in the bed beside her's. Metzger added another pair of girls who actually hop into bed together: they exchange a smooch, then cuddle-up. The scene does have a frankly sexual tone to it -- this was not the type of thing you saw at the movies on Friday night in the 1950s --even though nothing explicit happens. It was enough to cause the film to be held up for distribution in New York State for several years. The New York City Regents Board, which issued the licensing needed for films to be shown in local theaters, turned down The Twilight Girls on the basis of, according to their decision, material that had been "inserted" for "prurient reasons". Even though a higher court would later issue a ruling ordering that the film be licensed, the Regents Board continued to stand by their initial decision. Metzger's company, Audubon Films, took the case all the way to the New York State Appeals Court, who, in February, 1965, reversed the Regents Board decision and declared that the film was "not obscene", after which it was shown, without cuts, right at about the time when the beginnings of the new "freedom of the screen" were starting to manifest themselves. (In June, 1965, another Appeals Court ruling would declare the New York State censorship laws unconstitutional and "null and void"; Maryland's state censorship laws would also be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court that same year.)

As for The Twilight Girls? Well, the robotic English-language dubbing takes some getting used to. (And the dialogue: "You remind me of someone I never knew." "I'm so happy now---I want to go around kissing everyone!") The restored footage with Sylvie Dorléac is charming, and is presented in its original French-language form, with subtitling. Agnes Laurent, who gets top billing, actually appears in a secondary role (she's the schoolchum introduces Dean to Catharine). Christine Carère was actually the girl of the hour when this was made: she had landed the female lead in a big Hollywood adaptation of Françoise Sagan's novel, A Certain Smile, which would come out in 1958, a year after Les Collégiennes. (And the glacéed film version Jean Negulesco made of it tanked big time. Carère returned to film acting in France. Agnes Laurent, the "fabulous love kitten" being positioned as a rival to Brigitte Bardot, would leave show business altogether, embarking on a successful second career as a French politician.)

As for the hot stuff -- well, the exhibitionistic Simone aside, the smooch and the cuddle are about as hot as things get, here. If you're looking for something hotter, you'd have to wait until Metzger released I, a Woman (oh, those fabulous Swedes!) in the U.S. in 1967. What The Twilight Girls does is evoke a time not that long ago when a "frank and daring experience" at the movies could still be had. In the preview trailer for another Agnes Laurent import, Soft Skin on Black Silk, a voice tells us, "In case you think she has nothing left to show you, wait until you see this film. She really gets down to business." By the end of the 1960s, Catherine Deneuve (whose recollections of making "Les Collégiennes" is succinct: "I performed in a school uniform, and it was where I learned how to tie a cravat.") would appear in Belle du Jour, the psycho-sexual thriller Repulsion, and Marco Ferreri's Liza, where her character is made to be leashed and act like a dog. The Motion Picture Ratings System would be introduced, and for a few years it was fashionable to take in adult movies -- Devil in Miss Jones (which was reviewed in Time magazine), Marilyn Chambers in Behind the Green Door, Linda Lovelace consulting with "doctor" Harry Reams in Deep Throat. Radley Metzger himself would direct another, Misty Beethoven, which came to be highly regarded in some quarters.

What effect has this had on the current state of our society and culture? Some of the truly depraved films -- Jörg Buttgereit's siren-song paeans for self-destruction, Larry Clark's peep-show fetishizations of underage bodies -- which have developed cult followings probably would've gotten made anyhow, anyway. In 1980, United Artists had to abandon their attempts to make a film out of Gay Talese's best-seller Thy Neighbor's Wife because they couldn't figure out how to do it without getting an X rating, which would've kept people AWAY from the film at that time. Now, if the bobbing nincompoops in the Girls Gone Wild videos are to be believed, everyone wants to expose themselves in front of everybody. The Twilight Girls looks cozy and quaint. Unless someone wants to do The Twilight Girls Gone Wild....

Directed by:
André Hunebelle

Christine Carère
Marie-Hélène Arnaud
Agnes Laurent
Estella Blain
Henri Guisol
Gaby Morlay
Sylvie Dorléac

Written by:
Jacques Emerue 
Louis Duchesne

NR - Not Rated.
This film has not
been rated.






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