[From Luc Moullet’s monograph Cecil B. DeMille: The Emperor of Mauve (2012, Capricci). See Table of Contents]

Unconquered (1946): Gary Cooper and Paulette Goddard saved from drowning at the last minute.

When I was writing at Cahiers du Cinéma in the 1950s and 1960s, we were all practitioners of the auteur policy. If a director was brilliant, it was on all his films. There are indeed very few failures in the work of Renoir, Hawks, Hitchcock, Chaplin or Lubitsch, and none in that of Tati or Eisenstein, who only made seven or eight films. Those who failed often enough became suspects: if Ford failed in three films in a row (Mogambo, The Long Gray Line, Mister Roberts), it meant that our estimation was wrong. And yet, Seven Women, Stagecoach and The Grapes of Wrath remain major works.

DeMille was thus challenged with supporting evidence: the mediocrity of The Crusades, The Woman God Forgot, Carmen, A Romance of the Redwoods, The Trail of Lonesome Pine, Chimmie Fadden Out West, Maria Rosa, The Unafraid, Rose of the Rancho, Till I Come Back to You, The Squaw Man of 1931 etc.

I have to say that, when a director makes more than fifty-five feature films, there are bound to be blunders.

And then, directors of the early days or of Hollywood at the time of its splendour were not looking to present an absolutely spotless record of achievements. They didn’t even know that films could remain indefinitely in memory. They turned out turkeys just like they went to the toilet or made laundry lists. And they couldn’t know for sure whether one of their many projects would give a good result. DeMille’s first priorities at the beginning of his career were to fulfil the wishes of Famous Players-Lasky, which wanted to make the most of his name, and to put his team to work. When he didn’t have a project under his belt, DeMille would shoot another Squaw Man. There was nothing to write, or almost nothing, and off he went. Maria Rosa seems to have been undertaken solely to familiarise the great star Geraldine Farrar with cinema before giving her more important roles. Till I Come Back to You was probably the result of a diplomatic agreement with the Belgians to restore the coat of arms of their fugitive king (The Cheat had already mentioned Red Cross’s aid to the Belgians, and C.B.’s ancestors came from Holland). I notice that, apart from more ambitious productions such as Carmen or The Woman God Forgot, almost none of the failed films is detestable, but they turn out to be insipid and uninteresting.