Maybe it's the setting. It's probably the setting. It has to be the setting.
After all, Sundance has snow-capped mountains (lovely and picturesque). Berlin has the Brandenburg Gate (monumental and historic). Tribeca has those tall, orange-and-white steam-vent things on every street corner (Hollywood shorthand for "gritty urban landscape"). But of all the world's great film festivals, only Cannes materializes each spring on the absurdly beautiful French Riviera; only Cannes manages to convey a sense of playful decadence lit by the Mediterranean sun, rather than by streetlights and camera flashes; only Cannes is . . . Cannes.
Here, as the 67th edition of the film extravaganza gets underway, LIFE.com presents a gallery of pictures, many of which never ran in LIFE, from Cannes five decades ago: photos that still, today, convey the glamour and the blithe sensuality that set the festival apart from all others.
Of the celebrated (or, at least, the time-honored) tradition of unknown and little-known actresses and models posing for hordes of photographers pretty much anywhere they can find a spot to stand, sit or sprawl, LIFE noted in its June 15, 1962, issue that "the hunt for attention becomes so fierce at Cannes that you can't tell the hunters from the hunted."
Photographers flushed out starlets, starlets stalked photographers. This year the town posted gendarmes to prevent [actresses from taking off their bikinis]. So the photographers had to make their subjects look alluring on speedboats, in picture frames and pitching bowling balls.
Philomène Toulouse (above), an art student from Paris who wants to be in pictures, was the only one who thought to bring a fox. She was roundly criticized by animal lovers for keeping the fox leashed and using him to gain publicity. "But," said Philomène, "I've even found him a lady fox in a nearby hotel. They're madly in love." Philomène and the fox got big play from cameramen but nary a nibble from moviemakers.
As for Natalie Wood, who appears in several photographs in this gallery, LIFE was positively fulsome in its praise of the 24-year-old star who, by the time she wowed the critics and crowds at Cannes in 1962, had already acted (and in many cases had starred) in more than 30 films:
The role of movie queen comes naturally to Natalie Wood, and at Cannes she was at the top of her form. By night she accompanied her friend, Warren Beatty, to the showing of his new film, All Fall Down, and easily stole the spotlight from him. By day she went sailing and coolly demonstrated for the camera why she is the biggest U.S. rage since Elizabeth Taylor. Being a star is Natalie's job and her way of life — she became one at the age of 6 — and she gives off such a sweet scent of success that the Cannes photographers pursued her like jackals. But one of her greatest triumphs was wholly unexpected. At a party given by the Russian delegation, Natalie, the daughter of Russian emigrants, delighted her hosts by conversing fluently in their language and even joining in folks songs. Unlike the starlets at Cannes who still had to claw to the top, Natalie was at a pinnacle where she didn't care who knew that her real name was Natasha Gurdin.