As part of their centenary tribute to David Niven, MoMA will show two of the actor’s collaborations with Otto Preminger, including The Moon Is Blue, which screens on Sunday afternoon. Justin Stewart discusses the series here.
The Moon Is Blue is the litmus test for Preminger lovers; Jacques Rivette put it among “the most conclusive proof of his talent.” As in Rohmer, the characters banter about their characters—the “professional virgin” playing cute, two suave hands (William Holden and David Niven)—and the kinda witty, ultimately circuitous dialogue is both the film’s own self-undermining discourse, as set by Maggie McNamara’s elusive coquette, and itself counterpointed by Preminger’s studied triangulation and fluid tracking shots through the closed sets of an apartment building.
As always in Preminger, his patient style, letting the characters present themselves but fitting them to their place, seems to see them as knowing outgrowths of their space and circumstance; “an automatic trash compactor!” McNamara fawns, and the matter of whether she really thinks it or thinks she should say it—always a question in Preminger—is almost beside the point. Like a lot of Preminger, Moon is in theory a trite drawing room comedy about characters who can’t undo the characters they’ve become, but McNamara’s deflective effusiveness against Preminger’s calm, seductive watchfulness makes it, in its clear-eyed comprehension of emotional obfuscation, more biting and more understanding and more modern a study of crippling privilege than Baumbach, Apatow, Bujalski… A film maudit, essential Preminger.