Led back to early 1900s Vienna by a roguish Master of Ceremonies (Walbrook), we’re privy to a circular series of lovers’ vignettes in this comedy of erotic manners based on the scandalous, fin de siècle play by Arthur Schnitzler. A prostitute (Signoret) seduces a soldier (Reggiani), who later courts a chambermaid (Simon), who finds herself attracted to a sensitive scholar (Gelin), who sleeps with a married woman (Darrieux)... and so on and so forth, as the merry-go-round of passion spins.
Opulent set design, gliding camera movements, and a dream cast of mid-century Europe’s finest acting talent outfit Max Ophuls’s wry, elegant look at the fleeting nature of love and desire. The carousel and waltz are important metaphors Ophuls returns to repeatedly, with Walbrook’s mustachioed MC occasionally breaking into the action to comment on his characters’ longings or, in one case, a young man’s sexual failure. But Ophuls’s satirical touch is light and bittersweet, never cynical. When it comes to the timeless art of seduction, the charms of “La Ronde” are irresistible.