Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

R | 119 mins | Drama, Romance | 21 December 1988

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HISTORY

       According to a 7 Aug 1988 LAT article, producer Hank Moonjean suggested French Letters as an alternate title.
       Christopher Hampton’s play, Les liaisons dangereuses, adapted from Choderlos de Laclos’s novel of the same name (Geneva, 1786), was optioned by producer Norma Heyman, with backing from Lorimar Film Entertainment Company, in Apr 1987, as stated in the 7 Aug 1988 LAT. In a differing report, the Sep 1987 issue of Dance Magazine mentioned that actress Jane Fonda was in negotiations to buy the rights to Hampton’s Broadway success, with plans to star in the lead role; however, no other mention of Fonda’s involvement was found in AMPAS library files. A 14 Oct 1987 HR news brief stated that Lorimar paid around $1 million for the rights, and Faye Dunaway would likely appear in the film as “Marquise de Merteuil” if she appeared in the play, slated to open in Los Angeles and San Francisco, CA. While the casting of Glenn Close and John Malkovich was announced in an 18 Mar 1988 HR news item, a 30 Mar 1988 HR item reported that Dunaway would appear as “Marquise de Merteuil” in Lorimar’s production. Meanwhile, director Milos Forman had turned down an offer from Lorimar to “join forces” with his competing project, also based on de Laclos’s novel and titled Valmont. According to the 30 Mar 1988 HR, Forman was also eyeing Glenn Close to play “Marquise de Merteuil” in his film; however, Close ultimately appeared in the Lorimar production.
       In a 25 Dec 1988 LAT interview, ... More Less

       According to a 7 Aug 1988 LAT article, producer Hank Moonjean suggested French Letters as an alternate title.
       Christopher Hampton’s play, Les liaisons dangereuses, adapted from Choderlos de Laclos’s novel of the same name (Geneva, 1786), was optioned by producer Norma Heyman, with backing from Lorimar Film Entertainment Company, in Apr 1987, as stated in the 7 Aug 1988 LAT. In a differing report, the Sep 1987 issue of Dance Magazine mentioned that actress Jane Fonda was in negotiations to buy the rights to Hampton’s Broadway success, with plans to star in the lead role; however, no other mention of Fonda’s involvement was found in AMPAS library files. A 14 Oct 1987 HR news brief stated that Lorimar paid around $1 million for the rights, and Faye Dunaway would likely appear in the film as “Marquise de Merteuil” if she appeared in the play, slated to open in Los Angeles and San Francisco, CA. While the casting of Glenn Close and John Malkovich was announced in an 18 Mar 1988 HR news item, a 30 Mar 1988 HR item reported that Dunaway would appear as “Marquise de Merteuil” in Lorimar’s production. Meanwhile, director Milos Forman had turned down an offer from Lorimar to “join forces” with his competing project, also based on de Laclos’s novel and titled Valmont. According to the 30 Mar 1988 HR, Forman was also eyeing Glenn Close to play “Marquise de Merteuil” in his film; however, Close ultimately appeared in the Lorimar production.
       In a 25 Dec 1988 LAT interview, Christopher Hampton stated that he had three weeks to write the script, as Lorimar rushed to shoot Dangerous Liaisons before Valmont went into production. The 7 Aug 1988 LAT noted that filming on Forman’s project began only days after the Dangerous Liaisons shoot ended. According to a 26 Nov 1989 NYT article, the screenplay deviated from the book by removing “omens of the [French] revolution.” In addition, the 7 Aug 1988 LAT noted that, while the book was set in 1782, filmmakers decided to place the action in the 1760s for aesthetic reasons, as the styles of the 1780s included more flamboyant wigs and dresses, while the 1760s favored smaller hairstyles and dresses with harder silhouettes. Director Stephen Frears also added a “modern touch” by using American actors with unaffected accents, and encouraged the use of letters in the film “as physical objects, as ironic counterpoint, as secret messages or palpable lies.” Several endings were considered and shot, but the footage from the second-to-last scene proved so powerful that filmmakers decided to end the story there.
       According to several contemporary sources, including 11 May 1988 Var production charts, principal photography began 30 May 1988 in Paris, France. Production notes in AMPAS library files stated that eight chateaux were filmed in the vicinity of Paris, and a French count acted as an etiquette consultant.
       In the 26 Nov 1989 NYT, Frears stated that de Laclos’s novel “achieve[d] its effect by going inward rather than outward”; thus, he used close-ups to tell the story on a more intimate scale. According to a May 1989 AmCin article, to reflect the cold light of Paris, director of photography Philippe Rousselot opted for bluer tones, avoiding the warm hue of candlelight whenever possible. In night and evening scenes, Rousselot used a dimmer console to lower the lights to roughly “10 to 13 footcandles,” which allowed for minimal depth of field. Lighting was further restricted at the main location, Chateau de Champs Sur Marne, where no gels could be placed on windows, and no interior walls touched. To reach high spots, lights were attached to booms.
       Frears was adamant that costumes and production design did not upstage the story or actors’ performances, as stated in a 22 Mar 1989 LAHExam article. Costume designer James Acheson and production designer Stuart Craig were given three weeks to research and prepare before production began. 100 costumes were produced in six and a half weeks, and seamstresses were flown to set for last minute finishing touches. Due to the number of close-ups, silk, cotton, and natural fabrics were used instead of cheaper nylon. The limited budget dictated filming take place within one hour’s travel from Paris, and only chateaus with Louis the 14th or 15th interior design were used. Craig noted, “Only the existing rooms that conformed to that concept were considered. When we ran short a few rooms or a corridor, we had to build it.”
       During production, a 21 Jun 1988 DV brief reported that Warner Bros. acquired Lorimar Telepictures. The studio assumed “full financial and ownership responsibilities” for Dangerous Liaisons, as the picture was not included in a “newly forged distribution agreement” between Warner Bros. and Lorimar; however, Lorimar was expected to continue supervision of the physical production. The budget was cited as “over $10 million” by the 7 Aug 1988 LAT, $14 million by a 14 Feb 1989 DV article, and roughly $15 million by the 26 Nov 1989 NYT .
       According to the 7 Aug 1988 LAT, after successful runs in London, England; Paris, France; and on Broadway; the play Les liaisons dangereuses was set to open at Los Angeles, CA’s Ahmanson Theatre in Oct 1988, prior to the Dec 1988 theatrical release.
       The film opened in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, CA, on a total of three screens, as noted in the 14 Feb 1989 DV, which stated that Dangerous Liaisons went on to earn “national best per-screen grosses” with $16,994 per screen on 60 screens in the week ending 1 Feb 1989. The release was set to expand to 347 screens mid-Feb, with the possible addition of 300 more dates depending on Oscar nominations to be announced 15 Feb 1989.
       Critical reception was largely positive, although the 12 Dec 1988 DV and 14 Dec 1988 HR reviews criticized John Malkovich’s performance as a weak point. In a glowing 21 Dec 1988 LAT review, Sheila Benson praised Frears’s risky directorial choices and noted Philippe Rousselot’s “close-ups…become addictive, letting us read the most miniscule shifts in mood.” The 26 Nov 1989 NYT compared the film to Roger Vadim’s 1961 Les liaisons dangereuses (see entry), and Milos Forman’s Valmont, stating that Frears’s Dangerous Liaisons was the only version to make the soul of de Laclos’s book “visible on screen.” The film won the following Academy Awards: Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium); Art Direction; and Costume Design. Academy Award nominations included Actress in a Leading Role (Glenn Close); Actress in a Supporting Role (Michelle Pfeiffer); Music (Original Score); and Best Picture.
       Dangerous Liaisons marked actress Mildred Natwick’s last feature film appearance before her death in 1994.
      End credits include the following statements: “Filmed on location at the Chateux de Champs sur Marne, De Maisons Laffitte, De Lesigny, De Vincennes, De Saussay, De Gambais, De Guermantes and at Studio Taksen à Joinville, France”; “Produced on the Broadway stage by James M. Nederlander, The Shubert Organization, Inc., Jerome Minskoff, Elizabeth I. McCann, and Stephen Graham in association with Jonathan Farkas”; “Original Royal Shakespeare Company Production presented in the West End of London by Frank and Woji Gero, original stage production in Stratford-upon-Avon, London and New York by the Royal Shakespeare Company.”
More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
LOCATION
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
May 1989
p. 65.
Daily Variety
3 Jun 1988.
---
Daily Variety
21 Jun 1988.
---
Daily Variety
14 Feb 1989
p. 14, 24.
Dance Magazine
Sep 1987.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Oct 1987.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Mar 1988.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Mar 1988.
---
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jun 1988.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Dec 1988
p. 9, 32.
LAHExam
22 Mar 1989
Section B, p. 1, 6.
Los Angeles Times
7 Aug 1988
Calendar, p. 39.
Los Angeles Times
21 Dec 1988
Calendar, p. 1.
New York Times
25 Dec 1988
Calendar, p. 40.
New York Times
21 Dec 1988
Section C, p. 22.
New York Times
26 Nov 1989
Section A, p. 15.
Variety
11 May 1988.
---
Variety
21 Dec 1988
p. 12.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Warner Bros. Presents
A Lorimar Film Entertainment Picture
An NFH Limited Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
3d asst dir
PRODUCERS
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Cam asst
Cam asst
Key grip
Generator op
Still photog
Lighting equip
Cameras by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dir
Asst art dir
Art dept asst
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Film ed trainee
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Const foreman
Chief carpenter
Chief painter
Painter/Dec
Chief plasterer
Prop buyer
Prop buyer
Drapery
COSTUMES
Cost des
Asst cost des
Cost supv
Costumer
Costumer
Cost maker
Cost maker
Cost maker
Cost maker
Cost maker
Cost maker
Cost maker
Cost maker
Cost maker
Embroidery
Jeweller
Jeweller
Milliner
Milliner
Dress dec
Dress dec
Dress dec
MUSIC
Mus supv
Mus rec at
Eng, Abbey Road Studios
SOUND
Prod sd mixer
Boom man
Cableman
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Dial ed
Asst dial ed
Re-rec mixer
Asst re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Main titles
MAKEUP
Supv makeup artist
Makeup artist
Makeup artist
Wig des
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Prod supv
Scr supv
Opera staging
Casting dir, United Kingdom
Casting dir, France
Extra casting
Loc mgr
Loc mgr
Asst loc mgr
Personal asst to Norma Heyman
Personal asst to Hank Moonjean
Personal asst to George Fenton
Prod coord
Financial rep
Asst to Patrick Newcomb
Prod accountant
Accountant
Accountant
Prod secy
Unit pub
Transportation capt
Post prod facilities
Laboratoires Eclair Paris
STAND INS
Duel coord
Stuntman
Stuntman
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Les liaisons dangereuses by Christopher Hampton (New York, 21 Apr 1987) adapted from the novel of the same name by Choderlos de Laclos (Geneva, 1786).
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
French Letters
Release Date:
21 December 1988
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 21 December 1988
Production Date:
began 30 May 1988 in Paris, France
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Brothers, Inc.
Copyright Date:
1 June 1989
Copyright Number:
PA420171
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Duration(in mins):
119
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
29402
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In eighteenth-century Paris, France, Marquise de Merteuil entertains her cousin, Madame de Volanges, and Volanges’s teenaged daughter, Cécile, who has just finished convent school. When the Vicomte de Valmont, a notorious lothario, pays a visit, he ogles Cécile while informing Merteuil that he is headed to the country home of his aunt, Madame de Rosemonde. Volanges mentions that Rosemonde has invited her and Cécile to stay as well, and asks Valmont to say hello for her. Alone with Valmont, Merteuil asks him for a favor. Reminding him that her former husband, Bastide, ran away with Valmont’s “fat mistress,” she reports that Bastide now plans to marry Cécile. However, as Cécile’s virginity is of the utmost importance to Bastide, Merteuil wants Valmont to deflower the girl in order to sabotage the marriage. Valmont refuses on the basis that Cécile’s conquest would be too easy. Instead, he plans to seduce his aunt’s houseguest, the beautiful Madame de Tourvel. As she is happily married and strictly moral, Valmont considers Tourvel to be a challenging conquest. Soon after, Merteuil introduces Cécile to Chevalier Danceny, an attractive young music teacher, and suggests she take lessons from him. Arriving at Madame de Rosemonde’s chateau, Valmont attempts to impress Madame de Tourvel by visiting Monsieur Armand, a sick villager, and paying his debts, while Tourvel’s footman spies on him. Although Tourvel is moved by the gesture, she receives letters from friends warning that Valmont is not to be trusted. On a walk one day, she asks how he can be capable of charity and depravity at the same time, and Valmont argues that his good and bad traits are not as extreme as she has ... +


In eighteenth-century Paris, France, Marquise de Merteuil entertains her cousin, Madame de Volanges, and Volanges’s teenaged daughter, Cécile, who has just finished convent school. When the Vicomte de Valmont, a notorious lothario, pays a visit, he ogles Cécile while informing Merteuil that he is headed to the country home of his aunt, Madame de Rosemonde. Volanges mentions that Rosemonde has invited her and Cécile to stay as well, and asks Valmont to say hello for her. Alone with Valmont, Merteuil asks him for a favor. Reminding him that her former husband, Bastide, ran away with Valmont’s “fat mistress,” she reports that Bastide now plans to marry Cécile. However, as Cécile’s virginity is of the utmost importance to Bastide, Merteuil wants Valmont to deflower the girl in order to sabotage the marriage. Valmont refuses on the basis that Cécile’s conquest would be too easy. Instead, he plans to seduce his aunt’s houseguest, the beautiful Madame de Tourvel. As she is happily married and strictly moral, Valmont considers Tourvel to be a challenging conquest. Soon after, Merteuil introduces Cécile to Chevalier Danceny, an attractive young music teacher, and suggests she take lessons from him. Arriving at Madame de Rosemonde’s chateau, Valmont attempts to impress Madame de Tourvel by visiting Monsieur Armand, a sick villager, and paying his debts, while Tourvel’s footman spies on him. Although Tourvel is moved by the gesture, she receives letters from friends warning that Valmont is not to be trusted. On a walk one day, she asks how he can be capable of charity and depravity at the same time, and Valmont argues that his good and bad traits are not as extreme as she has been led to believe. He claims she has had a positive influence on him and declares his love for her, but Tourvel runs away. After Valmont’s footman, Azolan, seduces Tourvel’s maid, Julie, Valmont coordinates with Azolan to find the two mid-coitus. Upon doing so, Valmont blackmails Julie, promising to keep her misconduct a secret if she will intercept Tourvel’s letters and deliver them to him. When he reads the letters, Valmont is not surprised to find that Madame de Volanges has written, warning Tourvel that Valmont seduces innocent women. At the opera in Paris, Cécile confesses to Merteuil that she and Danceny have exchanged love letters. Although Merteuil reminds the girl that her marriage to Bastide has been arranged, Cécile complains that he is too old and promises to show her Danceny’s letters. At Tourvel’s behest, Valmont returns to Paris, where he immediately writes her a love letter while lying in bed with a courtesan. The next day, he visits Merteuil and offers to deflower Cécile now that Madame de Volanges betrayed him. Recalling her introduction to society at fifteen, Merteuil says she paid attention to people’s secrets and practiced detachment, distilling the lessons she learned to one overarching principle: “Win or die.” She admits Valmont was the only lover who filled her with uncontrollable desire. Later, Merteuil warns Volanges about Cécile’s “dangerous liaison” with Danceny, revealing the hidden spot where she keeps his letters. While Valmont eavesdrops, Merteuil suggests that Volanges accept Madame de Rosemonde’s invitation and take Cécile to her chateau. Valmont panics, and Merteuil later says that she proposed the trip in order to add hindrances to his challenge. Hinting that sex will be a reward, Merteuil tells Valmont to obtain evidence of Cécile’s deflowering in writing. Tourvel disapproves of Valmont’s return to Rosemonde’s chateau. Disregarding her, he creates a distraction in order to slip a note from Danceny to Cécile. He convinces the girl to give him her bedroom key so he can deliver the letters more discreetly. However, when Valmont visits her bedroom that night, he forces Cécile to have sex with him, warning that her mother would never believe she gave him the key for any other reason. Devastated by the loss of her virginity, Cécile writes to Merteuil, who comes to Rosemonde’s and assures the girl that she should have sex with whomever she wants as long as she marries Bastide. That night, a singer performs at the chateau, and Tourvel smiles when she catches Valmont staring at her. While continuing to sleep with Cécile, Valmont builds a friendship with Tourvel. On a rainy evening, she allows him to enter her bedroom and reveals her love for him. Tormented by guilt over betraying her marriage vow, Tourvel begs Valmont to help her, and although he undoes her bodice, he goes no further. Instead, he informs Rosemonde that Tourvel has taken ill. Alone with Rosemonde, Tourvel admits she has fallen in love with her nephew. Rosemonde replies that men are disloyal and Valmont is worse than most. In the middle of the night, Azolan wakes Valmont to inform him Tourvel has left. Before following her, Valmont tells Merteuil that he likely impregnated Cécile and, although he stopped himself from seducing Tourvel the other night, he will show her no mercy upon his next visit. Reuniting with Tourvel at her home, he reprimands her for leaving Rosemonde’s, but their argument leads to impassioned lovemaking. He later recounts the experience to Merteuil as the best sexual experience of his life, revealing that he pledged his eternal love for her and felt enraptured for at least a few hours. Merteuil’s jealousy becomes apparent as she recalls the love they once shared. Promising his infatuation with Tourvel will not last, Valmont admits that, at the moment, it is out of his control. Rejecting his advances, Merteuil says she will only entertain one last night of lovemaking when she receives the written proof of Cécile’s deflowering that she requested. When Tourvel visits Valmont at home, he purposely allows her to interrupt him and Emilie, a courtesan, who accepts coins from him and snickers as she walks away. Tourvel becomes incensed, but he convinces her that he was only giving the girl money for charity. They sleep together again, and he professes a deeper love for her now that she has become jealous. Sometime later, Cécile writes another love letter to Danceny while in bed with Valmont. Suddenly, she convulses in pain and discovers she is bleeding. While Cécile miscarries, Valmont steals her letter and delivers it to Merteuil, whom he finds lying with Danceny, her new lover. Although Merteuil does not reward Valmont right away, she promises to fulfill their pact the next week. She tells him she still loves him, then relates the story of a man who fell in love with the wrong woman but repeated “it is beyond my control” anytime his friends tried to dissuade him. Valmont goes to break off his affair with Tourvel, lying that he has become bored after four months and loves another woman. He repeats “it is beyond my control” and pushes her around before leaving her in tears. He returns to Merteuil, who accuses Valmont of vanity, revealing that she encouraged his break with Tourvel because he truly loved her. Valmont orders her to end her affair with Danceny but she refuses. In turn, he reveals that Danceny has chosen Cécile over her. Valmont warns that if she refuses sex with him, it is a “declaration of war.” Merteuil opts for war, writing a letter to Danceny to expose Cécile’s affair with Valmont. In the snow, Danceny and Valmont duel with swords. Meanwhile, Volanges and Cécile visit Tourvel, who has taken ill. On her deathbed, she apologizes to Volanges for not heeding her warnings about Valmont. When Danceny stabs him, Valmont pushes the sword further in and discourages him from calling a doctor. He warns Danceny to beware of Merteuil and hands him a stack of letters from the marquise, encouraging Danceny to circulate them after reading. He asks Danceny to deliver the message to Tourvel that their love was the only real happiness he ever knew. Upon hearing of Valmont’s death, Merteuil becomes hysterical. Sometime later, she attends the opera but is booed away by the rest of the crowd. As she removes her makeup that night, the marquise sheds silent tears. +

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Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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