Marguerite Desnoyers wonders why Marcel, her husband, goes traveling so often. For business, as he claims? Or to cheat on her, as she suspects... With the passing of time, Marguerite is ...
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Marguerite Desnoyers wonders why Marcel, her husband, goes traveling so often. For business, as he claims? Or to cheat on her, as she suspects... With the passing of time, Marguerite is persuaded that Marcel has mistresses and she decides to return the favor. On a dark night, she gives herself to a total stranger. Nine months later, she gives birth to a ... Black baby! Written by
"The chains of marriage are so heavy that it takes three to bear them", once said French playwright and film director Sacha Guitry. Guitry, himself a notorious womanizer, knew what he was talking about.
Sacha Guitry wrote the play on which "Le Blanc et le Noir" was based, with an all-too familiar plot revolving around adultery (but with a strange twist -- just wait a minute). It was however Hollywood-trained Robert Florey (with the support of Marc Allégret) who officially handled the directorial reins. Maybe too many cooks spoiled the broth, because the least one can say about "Le Blanc et le Noir" is that it wasn't very well directed. The problem with plays is how to transform them into movies. Here, with the exception of maybe the first few scenes, it is stage work at its worst, that is to say static, old-fashioned and uninspiring. Guitry's sparkling humor didn't need that. Or maybe it did, as "Le Blanc et le Noir" displays some unpleasant details.
With some of the best actors of the time (Raimu, Fernandel, Pauline Carton being the most famous of them), the cast literally saves the film from mediocrity (with a couple of "bons mots"). While vacationing in the South of France, child-hating Marcel Desnoyers (Raimu) leaves his wife Marguerite (Suzanne Dantès) alone in their hotel room while he dallies with the local maidens. The evening settles in and Marguerite falls for the crooning of an American band singer she can hear from her room (as he sings to entertain people at dinner time). The neglected wife arranges therefore a nocturnal rendezvous with the singer in order to know him, hem, better. This is how she goes into the singer's darkened room, whereupon she enjoys an evening of purple passion. Nine months later, however, Marguerite gives birth to a black child (yes, the singer was black and Marguerite wasn't aware of that, as she never had the opportunity of meeting her lover in broad daylight!). Her flustered husband scurries about trying to set things right, and in so doing finds out that he genuinely loves children -- whereupon he declares he would like to become a daddy himself. End of story? No, it would be going too fast. One cannot overlook the blatant racism of this film. Yes, Marcel would love to have a child of his own, but not a colored one -- not because such a child is the living proof of his mother's cheat, but because "even a handicapped child would be better". Unpalatable? By today's standards, yes. If there were a study to be written about prejudice against Blacks in early French cinema, then "Le Blanc et le Noir" should not be missed. For the most amazing of all, that the idea of a husband can be jealous of another man not because he slept with his wife (as such things happen, don't they?) but because he is a n--er (forgive me for using this word) was apparently not shocking at all for the audience of the 1930s is probably the most disturbing thing about this film. If it were only racy (in the classy Guitry manner), the film would be all right, although poorly directed. But a couple of cues puts it beyond the bounds of good taste and makes the viewer uncomfortable during a scene or two.
Sacha Guitry was so disappointed with the direction of "Le Blanc et le Noir" that he eventually decided to bring himself his witty theatrical work to the big screen, which he actually did only a couple of years later. Needless to say that these latter works are much better.
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