Toulouse Lautrec took a fall down a flight of stairs as a boy, and that simple accident created an extreme deformity that marked his life forever. His broken legs would never mend, and he ended up only 4’10”, his adult sized torso supported by legs the length of a child’s. Jose Ferrer, in striving to be like Lautrec, had his legs strapped up behind him and used special pads to walk on his knees in what must have been an extremely painful way. Huston also used special camera angles and in long shots, doubles to portray Lautrec. But besides these, plus the fact of Ferrer’s amazing resemblance to Lautrec, it was Ferrer’s superb acting that brought to life Lautrec in all of the anger, pathos and genius that were his life.
But his most famous works are of the bohemian café, the Moulin Rouge. It is there that the Can-Can was popularized, and the café was rough and inviting. It was there that Lautrec befriended Jane Avril (Zsa Zsa Gabor), the singer. He also came to know La Goulue, the wild, rough and tumble, unabashedly sexual dancer (Katherine Kath). His sketches of the Moulin were made into posters to advertise the café, and they became a part of the bohemian quarter landscape. In a double performance, Ferrer also played his disapproving father, the Count of Toulouse, who was ashamed of his son’s life as a street artist.
Women were always a big part of Lautrec’s life, particularly two. The first is the deceitful and manipulative Marie Charlet (Colette Marchand), a street whore who pushes her way into Lautrec’s life with promises of acceptance and affection. Her betrayal of him led him to want to take his own life. The second woman was Myriamme (Suzanne Flon), a beautiful woman who truly loved Lautrec, but by the time she came into his life, he was too embittered to believe her.