In order to maintain some semblance of order amid roughly 9.73 gazillion pages of information, Wikipedia is home to a number of ‘disambiguation’ pages. These are pages which house a series of links to articles that possess essentially the same title, albeit different subject matter.

Today’s journey brought me to one such page. From what I can tell, each of the entries bears at least a smidgen of a relation to the first: Bel Ami, an 1885 novel by French author Guy de Maupassant. Rather than devote my entire entry solely to that novel, I feel I should touch on each of the pages that have been suggested to me.

 

First, the novel. Guy de Maupassant, whose boldness of facial hair is only surpassed by the intensity of his stare, always just slightly to the left of the person he was addressing, is considered one of the fathers of the modern short story. He also penned six novels, and signed his name to the famous list of 47 Parisian notables who objected to the presence of the Eiffel Tower. The story goes that he ate lunch at the Tower quite often, only because it was one spot in Paris where he wouldn’t have to look at the thing while he ate. He didn’t complain for long though – syphilis-induced paranoia made him cut his own throat, and he wound up committed, then dead by 1893.

But back to his story. Bel Ami was his second novel, which tells the tale of a journalist’s rise from nothing to uber-power, mainly by manipulating a series of high-powered, wealthy mistresses. There were, among literary circles (and believe me, I’m not qualified to participate in a literary shape of any kind), comparisons to Emile Zola’s 1880 novel, Nana, which features a prostitute who rises through the social strata of Paris. Both novels focus on protagonists whose sexual charms are so powerful, no one they encounter is immune.

From what I can tell, the story reads something like a Parisian Citizen Kane, except with more screwing, and no inevitable downfall. In fact, the novel appears to end with Georges Duroy (the protagonist) getting married and remaining at the top of French society, which would lead me to believe that the point of this novel is not that power corrupts, nor is it going to teach us that being power-hungry has any negative consequences.

Still, I’m talking like this is a book report, and I haven’t read the book. I haven’t had to pull off that trick since junior high.

The novel’s 1903 English translation was alternately titled The History Of A Scoundrel so I’m going to conclude that Georges is an anti-hero, and that the novel is a veiled critique on the nature of 19th century French society. Can I please get a B- for this?

Two stage productions have stemmed from this story: a 2008 version that opened in the Czech Republic, and something called Bel Ami: The Musical, which opened in London.

As always, I am more interested in the film adaptations, which brings me to the next item on our disambiguated list. A 1939 German film – and it was rare to find one of these that was not solely concerned with enhancing the image of the Reich – was made, directed by Willi Forst, who also starred.

The love interest of the film was played by Olga Tschechowa, an Russian-born actress who worked in both silent and talking films. Apparently, Hitler fell hard for Olga when he saw her on the screen, and she became the Fuhrer’s buddy, showing up at high society German parties and sig-heiling the night away.

Curiously, Olga’s brother, who was a Russian agent, almost used one of her meetings with Hitler to stage a suicide attack, but the attack was called off at the last minute by Stalin. But wait, the story gets better.

About a month after Germany invaded Russia in 1941, Josef Goebbels asked Olga at one of those fancy parties if she thought the Germans would be planted in Moscow by Christmas. She told him no, the Russians would successfully resist. Not a good idea to disagree with one of the Reich’s big guns. Goebbels was pissed.

The story goes that the SS, led by Heinrich Himmler himself, was planning to arrest her in 1945 as a Soviet spy. Olga allegedly called up Himmler and asked for the courtesy to be allowed to finish her morning cup of coffee. When Himmler opened her door, Hitler was standing there, sending him away. Talk about Bel-Ami-ing one’s way to the top.

The first American film to take on the story was 1947’s The Private Affairs of Bel Ami, starring George Sanders (who played Mr. Freeze in TV’s Batman), and Angela “Jessica Fletcher” Lansbury. The film was low-budget, very much a noir-style piece of 1940’s cinema.

Let’s fast-forward to another sort of adaptation. In 1993, filmmaker George Duroy, who changed his name to mimic the novel’s protagonist, started up the Bel Ami Film Company, based in Bratislava, Prague, and Budapest. They specialize in all sorts of features, at least all sorts that fall into the category of gay porn. The company has won numerous awards, and its founder has been nominated to the GayVN Awards Hall of Fame.

I’m going to resist looking at the company’s website or into any specific films, as we’re already rounding the 900-words corner, and I’m really just not in the mood for going down that road today.

One last adaptation of the novel, and we’re back in the world of non-porno cinema once again. This is, of course, the 2011 release (which I have not, until this moment, heard of), starring Robert Pattinson as Georges Duroy. I’m not making this up – they are allegedly aiming for an October 19 release. Also in the cast are Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Colm “Transporter Chief O’Brien” Meaney. The film lists two directors, Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, who have not yet directed a feature film.

From the cold streets of 19th-century France, to height of Nazi Germany, and lastly to a new Hollywood production (via a detour down Gay Porn Alley), Bel Ami appears to have cast a fairly impressive shadow.

I’m still not reading it though. Too busy writing about other things I’ve never heard of.