Mademoiselle Fifi is split down the center, roughly, into two parts. The first involves Simone Simon on the trip to her hometown. The second is when she reaches the town. The film takes place in occupied France during the Franco-Prussian War, but it opens with a title card presenting it as an analogue to World War II.
The first half, with Simon’s laundress winning over her fellow travelers, a bunch of stuck-up upper crust who don’t understand why she doesn’t associate with the occupying Prussians. Fifi tries hard to be about recognizing the evils of passive collaboration. It’s more successful when it’s just about Simon and her experiences. It plays very naturally at those times.
Unfortunately, the finale is entirely artificial and contrived, so Fifi falls apart quite a bit. The short runtime is partially responsible. With a few more minutes, the film could introduce real characters into the second half instead of filler. The first half has extremely memorable ones, particularly Jason Robards Sr. as an obnoxious wine wholesaler and Kurt Kreuger as the titular villain. Even the less compelling characters are distinct. Not so at the end, when Fifi mostly introduces Prussian officer caricatures and vapid collaborators.
Simon’s excellent in the lead, as is John Emery as the armchair intellectual she inspires.
Technically, the film’s mediocre. Harry J. Wild’s photography is nice. J.R. Whittredge has some good transitions but, otherwise, his editing is weak. Wise’s direction is indistinct.
Fifi‘s impressive parts make the whole acceptable.
Directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by Josef Mischel and Peter Ruric, based on stories by Guy de Maupassant; director of photography, Harry J. Wild; edited by J.R. Whittredge; music by Werner R. Heymann; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.
Starring Simone Simon (Elizabeth Bousset, A Little Laundress), John Emery (Jean Cornudet), Kurt Kreuger (Lt. von Eyrick, Called ‘Fifi’), Alan Napier (The Count de Breville), Helen Freeman (The Countess de Breville), Jason Robards Sr. (A Wholesaler in Wines), Norma Varden (The Wholesaler’s Wife), Romaine Callender (A Manufacturer), Fay Helm (The Manufacturer’s Wife), Edmund Glover (A Young Priest) and Charles Waldron (The Curé of Cleresville).