Valmont (1989) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoop's comments in white:

This movie is based on Les Liaisons Dangereuses, an 18th century novel by Choderlos de Laclos. If that sounds familiar, it is because the same novel generated a stage play by Christopher Hampton which in turn inspired another movie called Dangerous Liaisons. This movie and the other were released within about a year of one another.

I like this movie. It doesn't have the star power of the other version, which featured Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer and Uma Thurman, but it has something the other movie lacks: passion.


(written by Tuna)

Annette Bening shows buns, and possibly breasts, and then later shows buns and breasts through a wet bathing gown.

I have seen discussion about buns exposure from Fairuza Balk, and a debate about whether that is child pornography. Let me end the debate They clearly used a stunt butt. We see Valmont caressing the bared bottom, then a shot of Balk's face and body, where her buns are clearly covered by a sheet as she reacts to his boldness, then cut back to him nuzzling his bottom. They did not fondle and kiss a 14 year old's buns making this film.

When Glenn Close and John Malkovich played their games of sexual intrigue in the other version, it was all about cerebral conquest and calculation and power. It is hard to picture either of them filled with sexual rapture, and equally hard to picture anybody filled with rapture at the prospect of bedding them. Close and Malkovich are so creepy and spooky and obviously insincere that old Eastern European ladies would cross themselves if they passed.

Colin Firth and Annette Bening, on the other hand, are lively, attractive, sexual, likeable rogues. You could imagine yourself seduced by either of them. They may indulge in power games, but it is apparent that they enjoy their encounters. I especially liked the perpetually underrated Colin Firth in the title role, as a Valmont whose company would be great fun at any occasion, and whose seductiveness owes at least as much to his innate charm as to his conniving. Old ladies and children like him as much as his lovers. Malkovich, on the other hand, carried a dour, sinister, superior presence which could not only scare children, but could cause dogs to start howling in his proximity. Firth and Malkovich are both fine performers, but they created radically different interpretations of the role. Firth's Valmont is a guy you'd have a drink with. If Malkovich bought you a drink, you'd switch glasses on him.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen anamorphic format

Valmont's settings are elegant and lovely. Today's Prague stands in nicely for a Paris long gone, and the interiors are equally splendid. The movie is dappled with the appropriate sights and music to evoke the era, and it contains an equal measure of plot and merriment. It is probably not as true to the correct tone of the root story as Dangerous Liaisons or Cruel Intentions, a modern day version of the same story, but I enjoyed it just as much or more than those other two films. 


Milos Forman had a high budget project planned with lots of location shooting, lots of set decoration, and fantastic costumes. Then he heard that Stephen Frears was doing a much less ambitious interpretation of the same story called Dangerous Liaisons, which was adapted from a stage play, and would make it to release almost a year before Forman could finish. Forman was afraid his project would be cancelled, but the producers showed enough faith in him to let him continue the film.

(Scoop's note: The producers' trust was misplaced. Forman made a good enough movie, but the film lost just about every penny they invested in it. It is one of the most notorious money losers in history.)

Valmont is much less spiteful and vindictive than Dangerous Liaisons (or the modern copycat, Cruel Intentions). The characters, both the seducer and seduced, act as if they are at least having fun while playing these seduction games, and the characters are much more multi-dimensional, and therefore much more likable. The film looks great, showing the effort put into sets, locations, costumes, etc. For me, it is a better film than Dangerous Liaisons for that reason. Roger Ebert awards Valmont three and a half stars, while giving Dangerous Liaisons three. I suspect that, had Valmont been released first, it would have had the awards and the acclaim rather than Liaisons.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3.5/4


The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: it lost a lot of money. It was a complete box office failure, with a mere million in domestic gross, despite lavish production costs.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B- according to Tuna "Period costume dramas are not my favorite genre, but I was able to stay awake through this one." Scoop says: "I have to buy into that rating based on the crossover appeal to Tuna, who doesn't like costume dramas. I do like them, and I like this one. Of course, this version isn't really about 18th century people. It is about modern people wearing old clothing. I doubt if it is much like pre-revolutionary France or the original novel, but I just plain enjoy it. I always recommend it as an undeservedly forgotten film, and as a refreshingly different way to look at the same story."

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