Pierre la Mure did not claim that his Moulin Rouge was an accurate biography of Toulouse-Lautrec, but a dramatic evocation of the artist and his background; and since John Huston has based his film upon the book, one imagines his intention to have been the same. Obviously, then, one mustn't reproach it for factual errors and fictionalised episodes—though one may feel this kind of approach to be ultimately pointless …; but one can, and must, complain that Moulin Rouge … adds up to an unacceptably glib and misleading portrait of a famous artist. (p. 194)
The concentration on visual effect suggests that Huston may have been more interested in his surface than his people…. On the surface, Moulin Rouge is far from tasteless, apart from one lapse into the "art-film," with quickly cut juxtapositions to give still pictures the illusion of movement…. It is strange that such a sharp division should exist between Huston's surface appreciation of his material, and the material itself; that he should have used its visual richness only to embellish a void of indifferent writing and construction, to say nothing of [amateurish] performances…. [The] sad fact remains that with all its careful, superior craftsmanship, Moulin Rouge does for an artist and his art little more than most concerto films have done for composers. (p. 195)
Gavin Lambert, "'Moulin Rouge'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1953 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 22, No. 4, April-June, 1953, pp. 194-95.