The Eiffel Tower at the cinema
Few famous landmarks have had a more impressive film career than the Eiffel Tower. As a film about its construction hits theaters, Peter de Villiers looks back on the big-screen appearances of the iconic building.
Tall, bright and stunning from every angle, the Eiffel Tower is the perfect movie star. It’s no wonder, then, that France’s most recognizable structure has been appearing in movies for decades. And what an adventure it has been – to act as a jungle gymnasium for the world’s most famous spy and to be rescued by a superhero, to inspire both a founding father of the French New Wave and a rodent with rare culinary skills. Meanwhile, the Eiffel Tower has been a great co-star – doing its job without ever hogging the spotlight.
Next month, everything is set to change. In director Martin Bourboulon’s new film, eiffel, the monument takes center stage. Set in the Paris Belle Époque of the 1880s, we follow Gustave Eiffel (Romain Duris) as he embarks on the colossal task of building what would become one of the world’s most beloved landmarks. The film also explores the role played by Adrienne Bourges (Emma Mackey), whose relationship with Eiffel shaped the Paris skyline. As we delve into the tower’s history, it’s the perfect time to look back on the monument’s cinematic past. Whether destroyed, serving as a platform for musical numbers, or providing a porthole to another world, The Eiffel Tower remains an imposing presence on screen.
The Lavender Hill Crowd (1951)
So here’s the plan. Hijack a batch of gold bars in London, melt them down, and turn them into tiny Eiffel Tower paperweights so they can be smuggled back to Paris. The only hiccup for the crowd in this Ealing comedy starring Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway is that when they grab their loot from a kiosk in the Eiffel Tower, six of the souvenirs have accidentally been sold to British schoolgirls. And there’s more bad news: one of the girls plans to give her mini Eiffel Tower to her friend, who happens to be a policeman. While the Eiffel Tower holds its own (both in miniature and full size) in the film, it gets robbed of some of its thunder by a rising actress who would go on to have a pretty decent career. Look for an Audrey Hepburn cameo in this classic crime film. Tower rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Funny Face (1957)
Few films make Paris salivate like Stanley Donen’s 1957 musical, whose cast literally sings the City of Light’s praises. Audrey Hepburn plays Jo Stockton, a New York bookstore assistant who has the perfect look to be the new face of fashion magazine Quality. Trouble is, she won’t be playing ball with editor Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) and photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire). Then she learns that the next shooting will take place in Paris. The excitement the trio feel about being in the French capital is summed up in the light-hearted Bonjour Paris number, where the characters go over their travel plans in a sequence that stitches together more must-see sights than a video. of tourist office. After a full day, all three agree that “something is missing, there’s still a place to go”… Take a great photo of the Eiffel Tower lined with fountains as the trio takes the lift to the top of the monument and enjoy the panoramic views from the viewing platform. Tower rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Great Race (1965)
Whether it’s aliens in Mars Attacks!, puppets in Team America or an asteroid in Armageddon, Hollywood loves to blast the Eiffel Tower into a thousand pieces. Perhaps the most unexpected – and certainly the most comedic – destruction comes at the end of The Great Race, Blake Edwards’ action adventure that sees the dashing Great Leslie (Tony Curtis) challenge the dastardly Professor Fate ( Jack Lemmon) at a car race from New York to Paris. After a bumpy trip that includes saloon fights, polar bears and sinking boats, Leslie comes out on top as the contestants race through Paris but, to prove to beautiful photojournalist Maggie DuBois (Natalie Wood) that he cares more of her than winning, our hero stops short of the finish line at the Eiffel Tower and lets fate win. Furious at this, Fate insists they return to New York – it’s all part of a plot to blow up Leslie’s car with a cannon. He misses, hitting the Eiffel Tower, which bends and descends in sections in a comedic fall that would have made Jacques Tati proud. Tower rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The 400 Blows (1959)
François Truffaut’s feature debut has perhaps the most famous title sequence in French film history – one in which the Eiffel Tower plays a crucial role. The story of young neglected Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), who has to deal with egocentric parents and brutal policemen, begins with a tracking shot through the streets of Paris. The Eiffel Tower looms over the rooftops at an angle suggesting it’s the view of a child sitting in the back seat of a car. Street by street, the camera gets closer and closer to the structure, keeping its gaze fixed on the tower. Eventually, we’re right under the Eiffel Tower, briefly gazing at its majesty before the car pulls away with France’s most reassuring symbol disappearing in the distance. It’s the most perfect opening for a harrowing coming-of-age tale of a boy for whom a normal, happy life is out of reach. Tower rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Superman 2 (1980)
You really can’t take Lois Lane anywhere. In what’s a common theme in the first two Superman films, the Daily Planet’s top reporter, played by Margot Kidder, continually gets into trouble and is saved by Superman (Christopher Reeve). And it doesn’t take long for Lois to do something stupidly dangerous after arriving in Paris in Richard Lester’s campy suite. As terrorists seize the Eiffel Tower and threaten to detonate a nuclear bomb, the reporter covers the story by clinging to the bottom of an elevator containing the device. She is soon plummeting to her death, with Superman arriving just in time – flying over Paris and catching the plummeting elevator. With the people of Paris still in mortal danger, the Man of Steel flies the elevator straight to the top of the Eiffel Tower and into space where it explodes – leaving Lois standing on the iron tower in train to consider her next move as a damsel in distress. . Tower rating: ⭐⭐⭐
A View of a Murder (1987)
While the 14th Bond film faced a lot of criticism when it was released in the late 1980s – not least because Roger Moore was 57 at the time of filming and needed a stunt double to climb the stairs – A view to kill has a lot going for it: a big baddie played by Christopher Walken; a memorable henchwoman in Grace Jones’ May Day and a fabulous chase scene on and around the Eiffel Tower. After killing a local private detective at the Jules Verne restaurant on the tower, May Day catches up to the monument with Bond in a fast (well, fast) chase. As 007 closes in, the assassin jumps from the top of the tower and parachutes down. Not to be outdone, Bond descends to the top of one of the elevators and hijacks a cab to continue the pursuit. Tower rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Red Mill! (2001)
Baz Luhrmann’s romantic jukebox drama may focus on the cabaret hall at the foot of Montmartre that gave us the cancan, but the Eiffel Tower – another Belle Époque structure – appears in a pivotal scene. As the love between young writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) and Moulin Rouge star Satine (Nicole Kidman) begins to blossom, their romance is conveyed in a lavish reworking of the Elton John classic “Your Song.” In what is an increasingly fantastical sequence, Christian’s voice lights up the Eiffel Tower before the couple twirls in the clouds and hides under a pink umbrella as glitter rains down on them. With the moon smiling from above, Christian, hanging from the monument, sings Satine. It’s magic stuff okay. Tower rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Pixar’s love letter to Paris and its gastronomy has so many magical scenes that it’s hard to narrow it down to just one. A strong contender, however, is when Remy (Patton Oswalt) – a rat with a highly developed sense of taste and smell – realizes the sewer he’s hiding in belongs to the greatest culinary destination on Earth. . After being ordered to leave his dark surroundings and look around for the ghost of his hero, Chief Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett), Remy rushes inside a building and finds himself on the roof. There stretches before him the City of Light with the Eiffel Tower sparkling in the distance. “All this time I have been under Paris?” says Remy, with the elation that every foodie feels as they prepare to eat in the French capital. Tower rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Lost in Paris (2016)
Belgian filmmaking duo Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon use the French capital as their playground in oddball Lost in Paris, their expertly crafted physical comedy routines culminating atop the Eiffel Tower. Gordon plays Fiona, a Canadian in Paris searching for her lost aunt Martha (Emmanuelle Riva). During a clumsy search, she crosses paths with the homeless Dom (Abel) who agrees to help her find the missing pensioner. They eventually land on the Eiffel Tower where the accident-prone Fiona nearly falls to her death when the ladder she is climbing comes loose. They find Martha asleep in a satellite dish and the trio enjoy spectacular views of Paris in what is the emotional end to a crazy adventure. Tower rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Men in Black: International (2019)
The Eiffel Tower may seem harmless, but in the latest Men in Black movie, it houses a wormhole that could lead to the destruction of the planet. Agents Hight T (Liam Neeson) and H (Chris Hemsworth) who, after interrupting a marriage proposal on the tower, battle the villains as the city sparkles below, step in to stop the parasitic race The Hive from s pile up in Paris. Just when you think things are safe, Agents H and M (Tessa Thompson) must return to the Eiffel Tower to stop another hive from surging in and ensure that the only bug-eyed creatures on the monument are tourists who have decided to use the stairs. not the elevator. Tower rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Eiffel Star Romain Duris as Gustave Eiffel
As a proud Parisian, Romain Duris jumped at the chance to play Gustave Eiffel, the man who created the city’s most famous monument. “Since I was a kid and still today, when I walk near the Eiffel Tower, I am fascinated,” he explains. “For me, the monument has always been magical. And I was very attracted by the theme of the engineer-artist who takes refuge in his work and brings it to completion as if it were a declaration of love.
The scale of the production, from the lush period costumes to the construction of a life-size reproduction of the Eiffel Tower, made it easier for Duris to step into the shoes of Eiffel (who also built the frame of Statue of Liberty). “Eiffel is incredibly spectacular,” he promises. “I realized this while walking around the setting where the foundations of the tower had been rebuilt on a large scale. And everything is heightened exponentially on screen. It gives your game even more strength.”
Eiffel is now in cinemas and available to stream online.
Excerpt from France Today magazine