France: 22 September 1948 United States: 18 December 1948
The Eagle with Two Heads (French title L'Aigle à deux têtes) is a French film directed by Jean Cocteau released in 1948. It was adapted from his own play L'Aigle à deux têtes which was first staged in 1946, and it retained the principal actors from the first Paris production.
On the 10th anniversary of the assassination of the king, his reclusive widow, the Queen, arrives to spend the night at the castle of Krantz. Stanislas, a young anarchist poet who seeks to assassinate her, enters her room, wounded; he looks exactly like the dead king, and the Queen shelters him instead of handing him over to the police. She sees him as the welcome embodiment of her own death, calling him Azrael (the angel of death). An ambiguous love develops between them, uniting them in a bid to outwit the machinations of the court politicians, represented by the Comte de Foëhn, the chief of police, and Édith de Berg, the Queen's companion. In order to remain true to their ideals and to each other, the Queen and Stanislas have to play their parts in a bizarre private tragedy, which the world will never understand.
Cocteau's play was produced in Paris in 1946 and 1947, and his decision to make a prompt adaptation for the cinema allowed him to retain the principal actors who had enjoyed personal successes with their roles, especially Edwige Feuillère and Jean Marais. Cocteau declared his intention of following the three-act structure of the play closely, citing his admiration of the methods of Ernst Lubitsch, but he opened out some of the scenes into a wider variety of locations. Filming began in October 1947 at the Château de Vizille, and further shots were filmed at the Studio d'Épinay on the outskirts of Paris.
Christian Bérard supervised the art direction, and the sumptuous sets and costumes (executed by Georges Wakhévitch and Marcel Escoffier respectively) evoked a royal palace in an imaginary kingdom of 19th century middle-Europe. Georges Auric expanded the music which he had written for the stage production into a full score for the film.
The film was released in Paris in September 1948. Its reception among French critics was mixed. It was appreciated for the sumptuous quality of its spectacle and for the elevated performances of its actors. Others however felt that its artificiality belonged to another age and another medium, and that Cocteau had not sufficiently emancipated his film from its theatrical origins.
When the film was shown in New York in 1948 and in London in 1949, the reviewers of both The New York Times and The Times shared a similar perplexity about the film's meaning and purpose. The film has in general not enjoyed the same attention as the others which Cocteau directed in the 1940s.
ReferencesThe Eagle with Two Heads Wikipedia
The Eagle with Two Heads IMDb The Eagle with Two Heads themoviedb.org