Director: Philippe de Broca.
Starring: Margot Kidder (Virginia Tregan), Ian Charleson (Clarence Dandridge), Andréa Ferréol (Mignette), Lloyd Bochner (Adrien Damvillier), Victor Lanoux (Charles de Vigors), Len Cariou (Oswald), Hilly Hicks (Brent), Raymond Pellegrin (Morley), Ken Pogue (Dr. Murphy), Akosua Busia (Ivy), Corinne Marchand (Anne Mac Gregor), James Bearden (Percy Templeton), Larry Lewis (Adrien II), Wayne Best (Maj. McGregor), Ron L. Lewis (Pierre Damvillier).
woman loses her house in the aftermath of the Civil War and vows to recoup her plantation
At the docks of the port of New Orleans. 1836. A white man gives a black boy some flowers to take to Miss Virginia Tregan over on the big ship. Then he gives some flowers to a little black girl to give to Miss Anne MacGregor who lives in one of the nearby houses. He also gives each child some money. The little girl quickly delivers her flowers and Miss Macgregor has her come inside her house. The boy takes longer because he has to go aboard the ship and take it to Miss Virginia's room. Miss Virginia is still getting dressed with the help of her maid Mignette. Virginia tells Mignette that they are going to be rich. The boy delivers the flowers and Virginia is certain they are from Adrien Damvillier, but gets a surprise when Mignette reads out the name of Clarence Dandridge.
It turns out that the white man is the overseer of the plantation of Marquise Damvillier. On the dock the three people meet together and introduce themselves. Miss Virginia says she just arrived from France where she lived for eleven years. They get on a paddle-driven steam boat.
When they disembark, Virginia remembers the black carriage driver, Noah, and says hello. He will take Virginia and Mignette to the plantation. Clarence rides a horse to accompany them. Upon arrival, Clarence goes into the main house to tell Adrien that Virginia has arrived. He also tells Adrien that evidently Virginia didn't get the letter sent by Adrien about her father's collapsed economic situation.
So, Adrien has to pull Virginia into the house immediately and tell her the bad news. Her home plantation was foreclosed and everything had to be auctioned off. The land was gobbled up, but no one wanted the house, so she does have that at least. And Adrien saved a very expensive necklace that belonged to Virginia's mother. Virginia is devastated by the news.
Virginia explains to Mignette that they have the plantation house, but without land and slaves, everyone will think she's white trash. Later at night Virginia takes a lamp and starts walking. Clarence wonders where she's going and follows her. Virginia goes into the home and throws the lamp against one of the walls. This starts a fire. She leaves the house as the plantation starts to burn down.
The next morning Virginia asks Clarence to accompany her to visit her old house to see what repairs are needed. Clarence plays along with her and tells her that last night her house burned down to the ground. Virginia pretends to faint. She keeps up the pretense until Clarence tells Adrien that perhaps Virginia just needs a good slap to her face. She suddenly "awakens" and Adrien says she gave him a real start. Adrien then tells her that she will stay with him on his plantation.
Adrien throws a big outdoor party. Virginia dances with him. The black cook and nanny faints in the heat and falls. She drops the tray she was carrying and some of its contents get on the dress of one of the female guests. Theguest is only concerned about her dress and not about the condition of the cook. Clarence and Virginia escort the slave over to a cabin and put her down on the bed there.
On another day Virginia sees Adrien hugging and laughing with another woman. She is so shocked that she drops the flowers she has just cut from a bush. Clarence picks up the flowers for her. Clarence tells her that the woman is Miss Anne MacGregor and she's been Adrien's mistress for three years. When he comes out of mourning for his wife, he will have no need to hide their relationship. He then tells Virginia that he watched her when she set fire to her house. That sobers up Virginia.
Mignette says the cook has taken a turn for the worse and is asking to see her son. Adrien tells her that he sold the son Brent to another plantation owner. (Apparently, he got a little too close to Adrien's sister.) Mignette gets Clarence to go with her to try to stop a hanging of the cook's son by his new owner. Clarence offers the owner three times the amount of money that the new owner paid for the slave. The owners says he has to make an example of this disobedient slave by hanging him. Clarence keeps asking for the slave, so the owner says that he will allow the slave to make a run for it and if Clarence can catch the slave before he does, Clarence can have him.
The slave is released and starts running. The owner then takes after the slave with Clarence racing after the owner and the slave. The owner catches up with the slave and starts to shoot the slave with his pistol. Clarence quickly draws his rifle and fires it, startling the owner's horse and spoiling the man's shot. The horse rears up and the owner falls off into the mud. Clarence then hurries over to the slave and puts him on his horse. He tells the owner that he guesses he didn't exactly follow the rules of the hunt, but claims the slave as his own. The owner is disgusted at the outcome and leaves in a huff.
The slave, Brent, goes to the cabin to see his mother. He hugs his mother as she lays on the bed unable to get up.
Virginia goes to see Anne. She gives the necklace of her mother to Anne saying it is a gift for her from Adrien. She says that it's a way for Adrien to get something off his conscience. Anne is puzzled by the remark and asks what is it that Virginia is trying to tell her? Anne guesses that it means that Adrien plans to marry someone else. Virginia lies and says yes. She then tells Anne: "We haven't set a date yet."
Virginia returns from a trip down to New Orleans. Clarence is there to pick her up. He tells her again that Adrien told him to pick her up. She asks is that the only reason he came to pick her up? Clarence says yes.
At night Virginia goes to see Clarence in his room. She has written a sort of confessional letter and hands it to him. She asks him isn't he going to read it and he says no. Virginia tells Clarence that once you lose all you have, then you fight in any way possible to get back what you've lost. She confesses: "Now that I've almost done it, I realize I was wrong." Then she says that she's in love with Clarence. Clarence rejects her, which really makes Virginia angry. She says she has known a lot of men like Clarence, but none of them ever rejected her. She slaps him hard across the face and heads for the door. Clarence stops her and kisses her passionately. He then throws her on his bed and kisses her some more.
Clarence suddenly stops and says he won't marry Virginia because he doesn't love her. He tells her to marry Adrien and do everything she can to make him happy. He releases Virginia and tells her to get out. Virginia hurriedly runs out of the house.
One day with Adrien, Virginia starts crying suddenly and runs to her bed. Adrien follows after her wanting to know why she's crying. She tells Adrien that she has been trying to capture him. She admits to burning down her own house and she told Anne that Adrien was going to marry her instead of Anne. He is shocked by her confession, but adds that she must care for him a great deal. Virginia says it's not for Adrien, but rather Bagatelle (the plantation). He says that applies to him too, since Bagatelle is all that matters. He asks Virginia to marry him. She says that's impossible. Adrien counters saying that he knows she loves Clarence, but he has rejected her. And Clarence will never marry her for reasons that he cannot divulge to Virginia.
Virginia and Adrien marry.
1846, ten years later. The son of Adrian and Virginia, Adrien II, chases down a boy who quickly begs not to be hit. So Adrien tells him if he moves from his present position, he will kill the fellow. He then runs back to the house.
In the house Adrien tells Virginia that what the people in the North don't understand is that the death of slavery would be the death of cotton and the way of life of the Southerners. Meanwhile, Adrien II is fencing with the same smaller boy and draws blood from the boy's left arm. Now the boy gets very scared and has to fight harder not to be really hurt by bully Adrien II. Clarence sees this and he has a flashback to a fencing duel he had with an older man, in which Clarence was badly hurt. So, Clarence runs over to stop Adrien from hurting the smaller boy any more. Adrien II is a bad sort and sasses Clarence saying that he is just a servant. Clarence slaps the boy across the face and he falls to the ground. From the ground Adrien II tells Clarence that he will pay him back for that someday.
Virginia tells her son to apologize to Mr. Dandridge. Adrien would rather take the whipping that his father now administers to his behind.
The parents now send Adrien II off to a boarding school to learn better discipline and behavior.
Mignette has married the local blacksmith and they have now offended the townsfolk by setting their slaves free. Virginia learns of the scandal and goes to speak with Mignette. Mignette tells her that a boat that she and her family were on tipped over in the river and their two male slaves on the embankment saved the family from drowning. Virginia sarcastically says, so, Mignette just had to set their slaves free. She adds that she knows that the tale is not true and that she ought to go to the judge with this information. Virginia tells her: "You've betrayed our friendship over two slaves. Goodbye!" Virginia marches to the door and leaves.
Mignette and her family are leaving the town. The plantation owner who tried to hang Brent the slave now leads a group of men after them. They find them staying in a deserted barn. The men wear masks over their lower faces, pull out their revolvers and attack the family. They knock out Mignette holding her baby and then kill her husband and the two freed slaves.
A terrible yellow fever epidemic ravaged Louisiana causing thousands of deaths. Virginia tells her son Pierre not to teach little black girl Ivy how to read. It's illegal. In the heat of the day Adrien faints. He dies in his bed. Virginia cries. Clarence goes up to the room to pay his respects to Adrien. He touches Virginia's face and she falls into his arms and cries.
Adrien II comes back and says he's now in charge of the plantation. And the first thing he does is tell Clarence that his services are no longer needed. Virginia intervenes and tells the boy that he will not be in charge until he is 21 years of age. And, anyway, he has to go back to school now.
At night alone with Clarence, Virginia kisses Clarence. He tells her he loves her and she says she loves him too. Clarence now explains that he can't even make love to her. Years ago he fought a duel over a woman and he was maimed in the process in the groin area.
Virginia goes down to New Orleans. She writes a letter to Clarence that she is leaving him in order not to lose him. "Without you, Bagatelle would no longer be Bagatelle. My life will be meaningless. I love you."
On board the paddle boat, Virginia hears talk of the South going to war against the North. Two gamblers talk about their betting. The guy from California wants to use his solid gold ring to cover his bet. The other fellow asks him where he got that big hunk of gold. The Californian says he can't say just where because it might create a stampede out California way. The Californian loses again. He then says that the other gambler forgot to give him his die back. The other fellow sticks his hand in his pocket and a dice falls out. He grabs the Californian's die and hands them to him. Virginia saw the dice fall from the gambler's pocket. A little later she goes over and picks the dice up. She finds out that the dice is the type used by gambling cheats.
Paris. 1848. The wealthy men of Paris are very taken with Virginia's beauty. One man bets another that he won't be able to charm the American over to him. Virginia dances with the dapper gentleman. Then suddenly Virginia breaks off the dance, as if she was starting to feel something for the man. She leaves the man behind, who is a bit perplexed by the sudden disappearance of the beautiful woman. His fellow gambler tells the charmer: "An excellent beginning!"
The next day Virginia sneaks past her pursuer to get to her hotel room. In her room she finds a gift box filled with the broken off petals of a flower. She smiles.
Virginia is at the opera and the pursuer is in the box next to hers. She smiles at him and he gets a big smile on his face.
The next day Charles de Vigors goes out riding with Virginia. Later they have sex together. He asks her to marry him and she says she won't because she doesn't want to take the risk She adds that she has three children and she must go home sometime. Charles puts pressure on her and she says she needs two months to think about his proposal.
Virginia writes a letter to Clarence saying that the people of Paris are rioting in the streets for change. She says she is in turmoil. Should she return to Louisiana alone or marry Charles de Vigors and return home with him? Clarence writes her back saying that his only wish for her is that she be happy. It is not up to him to tell her how to lead her life. Virginia is not happy with the rather curt letter.
Charles comes to Virginia and says they have discovered gold in California. He wants her to go with him to California.
A friend introduces Charles to an American acquaintance. The American is the gambling cheat from the paddle boat in Louisiana. His name is Oliver Oswald. He immediately shows Charles the big golden ring that he got from a Californian through cheating.
Virginia gets a little packet from Charles with the gold ring in it and a note from Charles. Virginia quickly changes her clothes. Her maid advises her not to go outside because the people are rioting. Virginia ignores her and runs out into the streets of Paris yelling for a carriage driver to pick her up. The people on the street are breaking into shops and taking out the goods therein. A detachment of cavalry arrive to stop the looting.
A woman shouting Liberty is shot down by the cavalry. Virginia examines her and finds her dead. She quickly runs away from the fighting.
Charles visits with Virginia. He tells her he was looking for her last night but could not find her. She asks him what did the man who sold him the golden ring look like? Charles is surprised that Virginia might know Oliver. He tells her that he bought a gold mine from the man, who has promised to send him letters reporting on the condition of his mine. She then tells Charles that Oliver is a fraud --a con-man at a dice games who cheated the original owner out of the gold ring.
Charles tells Virginia that he can't marry her because now he doesn't have enough money. Virginia tells him that she loves him.
The married couple go together back to Louisiana. There she finds Clarence packing up his things to leave the plantation. She wants to know why he's leaving. The marriage to Charles is too upsetting to Clarence. She tells Clarence: "If you didn't want me to marry, then why didn't you say so? . . . I asked you! . . . What do you want me to do? You want me to be like you? I need a man." Clarence leaves the plantation.
Charles sees how upset Virginia is and he asks her to tell him all about Clarence and her. She tells him and he is upset. She asks him if he thinks she's awful? A little. Virginia then tells him to console her. She kisses her husband.
Ten years later. Virginia's boys are grown into manhood and her daughter is a teen-ager. She is making preparations for the cotton ball. Mr. Morley has brought her some firecrackers for the celebration. Virginia asks Morley about Clarence Dandridge and the man says Clarence is flourishing in London as a wealthy cotton broker. Charles is none too happy about the news. At night in her sleep Virginia calls out the name of Clarence.
In the night, Pierre goes out to the barn where Ivy is waiting for him. He has brought her the old children's book he used to teach Ivy to read. Ivy wants to keep the book and use it to teach some of the slaves how to read. Pierre tells her no, because it's too dangerous. What if his mother finds the book in her cabin? Ivy says she will hide the book. Pierre tries to grab the book from her and then starts chasing her around a table. They manage to knock over the lantern on the table, starting a fire. The fireworks start exploding. Ivy gets out of the barn, but the fire blocks Pierre's way out. A ladder falls down hitting Pierre on the head, knocking him out.
Virginia puts flowers on Pierre's grave. Clarence arrives saying that he came as soon as he heard about the accident. They embrace each other.
Charles is leaving Virginia now. Virginia asks him to part as friends without any arguments. She also says that he was just waiting for an excuse to leave her. He says that she and Clarence provided him with the opportunity. Charles leaves.
Virginia finds out that the black mute Joe knows how to write his name. This makes her angry and she goes to confront Ivy with the information. She searches Ivy's room and finds the children's book. She asks Ivy what's she doing with this book and Ivy says she reads it.
Virginia demands that Clarence sell the slave Ivy. Clarence says that she's just punishing Ivy for something that Pierre did. Virginia repeats that Clarence is to sell Ivy "and that's an order".
Leaving the plantation with Ivy, Clarence asks her fs she wants to be free? She gives a definite yes, so Clarence takes Ivy to an underground railway station.
When Clarence returns home he throws down $1,500 dollars he says he got from selling Ivy. Virginia apologizes for speaking so harshly to him. She tells him: "Let's be done with this nonsense. I'm just too miserable." They kiss.
A drunken cadet, Adrien II, just does make it onto the paddle boat before it departs. Clarence is on the same boat and the drunkard starts harassing him. Adrien is approaching his 21st birthday. He wants the boat to go faster, so he goes down and turns off the safety valve. He pays the blacks some money to work faster. The boat is really picking up steam and there's an explosion in the engine room. The passengers start diving into the water. Adrien starts to drown and Clarence saves him. In the explosion, Adrien hurts his leg and now he has a limp.
Morley is showing a little too much attention to Julie, Virginia's daughter. He tries to race after her when she leaves the house. She hides in the barn, but Morley looks in the barn and finds her. Joe is up in the loft and he hears Morely saying that he doesn't want to hurt Julie. He looks down and is shocked to see what Morley is doing to the girl.
Morley takes the carriage and leaves the house. Virginia is mad because Julie didn't come to say goodbye to him. She goes shouting out for Julie.
A lot of men go out looking for Julie. They find her dead body.
Virginia finds something that belongs to Joe in the barn. She goes to question him, telling him not to be scared, but she wants to know what happened to her Julie. She asks him if he was with Julie in the barn? He was in the barn yes, but not with Julie. Then who was with her Julie? Joe can't speak, so Virginia gives him a piece of paper and a pencil and tells him to write the name on the paper of the person who was with Julie. He writes down the name, Morley.
Adrien and Clarence discuss how they will catch and punish Morley. Virginia, however, insists that they do nothing. She doesn't want Morley to know that they know he killed Julie. She says they will say that a black slave killed Julie and he has been hanged. Mr. Morley has been buying their cotton for more than 20 years and she wants Morley to continue doing so.
1861. The Civil War rages on. The South wins at the First Battle of Bull Run and the southerners are celebrating the great news. Adrien calls out for his mother and shows her the letter of credit. Now she can buy those weapons they need. The check is for $300,000 dollars. He mortgaged Bagatelle to the hilt. Virginia is mad at him for this, but he says he had every right to do so.
Paris. 1862. Virginia pays a visit to Mr. Morley. She presents him with a list of the rifles, bullets and cartridges that she needs for the Civil War. Mr. Morley says it can't be done. Virginia says she's giving him a chance to pay off his debt. And it's high time he paid.
Morley delivers the goods. Virginia gets him all alone and then uses her derringer to shoot Morley in the heart at point blank range.
Virginia delivers the goodies to the Confederate army. Clarence comes with an extra horse to pick her up. He has some bad news for her. Adrien went off with a southern cavalry unit. He tried to stop Adrien, but the rascal has never listened to him.
Bagatelle is used as a hospital for southern soldiers. Adrien with his soldiers arrive at Bagatelle. Virginia offers a warm greeting to her now only child. Adrien says that they can only stay a little while because the northern Gen. Banks and his army will be at Bagatelle by nighttime. He has to say goodbye to his mother.
Adrien and his small group of men run right into an ambush complete with Yankee cannon fire. In the skirmish all of the rebels were wounded or killed. Adrien is killed. Now his mother has to grieve for the loss of her boy Adrien.
Virginia and Clarence now have to adjust to the fact that slavery has been abolished. Now Virginia will have to pay the freedmen and women. She makes sure that Clarence is going to stay on with her to build Bagatelle up again.
Virginia goes to the banker to borrow $100,000 dollars so she can get her cotton harvested and then taken to market. The banker tries to get Virginia to sell her plantation, pay off her debts and then live out the rest of her life in sheer happiness. Virginia absolutely refuses to sell her plantation. The banker says he thought Virginia would say that, but he wants her to talk to a wealthy buyer -- a Mr. Oswald. Virginia doesn't recognize the name of the old con-man. Oswald wants to go into politics and he needs a base from which to start. Therefore, he will keep Bagatelle in operation if he can tell people that Bagatelle is his base.
When she meets Oswald again, she does not recognize him, even though he tells her they have met before. He asks her how may he help her further with the plantation? She says, for the moment, the loan is sufficient help enough.
At dinner Clarence advises her not to trust Oswald. He says he has a bad feeling about that fellow. Later Clarence tells her that $100,000 is not be a sufficient amount of money to accomplish their plans. So Virginia decides to go to New Orleans. There Virginia sells her expensive jewelry. Oswald is there by chance and sees her go in to sell her jewelry.
Virginia attends a ball at Oswald's house. She asks Oswald to dance with her. Later Oswald gives back all the jewelry that Virginia had to sell. He asks her why she just didn't ask him for more money? She replies that she knew there would be certain strings attached to more money borrowed from Oswald. Oswald says he will give back to her Bagatelle clear of all debts. Virginia asks him what does he want in return? He wants her to marry him, so he can use her to increase the prestige of his name in the eyes of the voters. Oswald then says that he believes that she wants him to make love to her. Virginia tries to slap his face, but he blocks the slap. Virginia walks out, but hesitates, letting Oswald know that she is still open to his offer.
Virginia goes to tell Clarence about the offer of marriage. Clarence expected that and so moved back to his old house on the plantation. Virginia tells him the benefits of marrying Oswald for Bagatelle and herself. Then she tells him that with all the men who have hugged her, she always thought about Clarence. She never wants to live again without Clarence in her life. They hug each other.
Virginia's barn filled with her cotton crop burns to the ground. She confronts Oswald saying he was the one who burned down her barn and all its cotton. Oswald says the real culprit has just been caught. Virginia says she knows Oswald paid the arsonist for the crime. Oswald doesn't try to dissuade her. He says that everyone has their price, including Virginia. And he still expects her to marry him. In three month's time, she will owe him $400,000 dollars. He has, after all, taken the mortgage over from the bank.
Bagatelle will be auctioned off tomorrow. Virginia and Clarence feel awful about that.
Virginia attends the auction. Oswald offers the highest bid of $435,000 dollars, but then Virginia bids $450,000 dollars. The bidding goes on until Oswald gives up at Virginia's bid of $500,000 dollars for the plantation.
Where did Virginia get the money for the purchase? Her former husband, the Frenchman, had given her the shares to the California gold mine that Oswald had sold to him. Oswald is defeated.
Back at Bagatelle, Virginia and Clarence dance a waltz together.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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