Louis Malle’s The Lovers got everyone all hot and bothered, but paved the way for future onscreen amour.
When French director Louis Malle conjured a romance about a woman’s sexual awakening, he never imagined her big O shaking up the Supreme Court and striking a wounding blow to censorship. Starring a lustrous Jeanne Moreau as a wife and mother who abandons her family after a blissful night with a hunky archaeologist, THE LOVERS (Unrated, 90 mins., 1958) played in most U.S. cities without a fuss. But a few minutes of a lengthy sex scene in which Moreau’s character is clearly having fun were too much for Cleveland Heights, Ohio. The print was confiscated by the police, and the theater manager was fined $2,500 by a state court. (The new Criterion disc — the film’s first DVD release — touches upon the scandal in archival interviews with Malle and Moreau, and a text and photo gallery. Aside from Moreau, the movie is elegantly staid.) By any standard, her character’s orgasm — accompanied by Brahms and ”mon amour” whispers — is hardly pornographic. The Supreme Court agreed in 1964: Of obscenity, Justice Potter Stewart famously opined, ”I know it when I see it.” And this wasn’t it. So, the next time you ogle your favorite reality-show cast going at it in a hot tub, think of Jeanne Moreau’s little cries for big- and small-screen freedom.