Above you’ll find a justly famous scene from one of the greatest of all films, The Earrings of Madame de… — and it’s also a perfect illustration of how deeply Max Ophuls loved dancing, how for him dancing is the ideal kinetic embodiment of love, the very image of intimacy. Circular movement was endlessly fascinating to him — see his film La Ronde for the obsession at its most obsessive — and he returns to it repeatedly, and what I love most is what the theme does for his camera work. Surely no one before the advent of the Steadicam has made a camera flow the way Ophuls did; and it would be difficult to find a Steadicam scene that excels Ophuls’ camera in elegant economy of motion.
(Also: note, late in the scene above, how the camera follows the musicians and attendants, so that we see the dancers primarily in mirrors. Ophuls was fascinated by mirrors also, especially in that movie, which begins by denying us a clear view of its protagonist except, fleetingly and partially, in a mirror.)
The Earrings of Madame de… appeared in 1953, when Ophuls had returned to Europe after a somewhat frustrating decade in Hollywood. His penultimate film in the U.S. was a noir-ish movie called Caught, which Ophuls seems to have conceived of as a way to say what he really thought about Howard Hughes. (Spoiler: nothing good.) But James Mason is fabulous as an idealistic doctor who works among the poor of Manhattan, and this scene in which he and Barbara Bel Geddes dance … well, IMHO it’s the best dance scene ever filmed by the all-time master of dance scenes. Just pay attention to the movement of that camera.