Zaza is an actress and the favorite at an open-air theater in a small French town. When diplomat Bernard Dufresne comes to the village, he stays away for fear he will fall for her. But when Zaza is badly injured, he has no choice.
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Director Cukor had a background in theater, and this is one of his films that allude to it (others include A Double Life, A Star is Born, Les Girls, and Heller in Pink Tights). He nicely evokes the camaraderie of a small group of travelling vaudevillians in 1890's France, and much of the action takes place backstage. Bert Lahr makes one of his few film appearances as Zaza's performing partner and conveys a gentle melancholy--possibly because his character is meant to be seen as gay and closeted or because he is hopelessly in love with Zaza. It's a little ambiguous, due perhaps to the Production Code. There's a wonderful and quite sensuous scene in which he casually plays piano and starts to sing a song that could be used by Zaza in the act and that she then starts to sing, first as she lounges on a bed in the next room. She is almost Dietrich-like, which is apt, as the song is by Frederick Hollander, who wrote so many of that diva's classics, including "Falling in Love Again."
It's a little hard to fathom Zaza's devotion to the character played by Herbert Marshall, and the film definitely shows its origins as a play, but it's worth taking a look at.
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