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As children, Zouzou and Jean are paired in a traveling circus as twins: she's dark, he's light. After they've grown, he treats her as if she were his sister, but she's in love with him. In Paris, he's a music hall electrician, she's a laundress who delivers clean underwear to the hall. She introduces him to Claire, her friend at work, and the couple fall in love. Jean conspires to get the show's star out of town and for the theater manager to see the high-spirited Zouzou perform. When Jean's accused of murder and Zouzou needs money to mount his defense, she pleads to go on stage. Her talents may save the show, but can anything save her dream of life with Jean? Written by
ZOUZOU, a young, vivacious Creole laundress impresses all around her with her talent & wit. Longing for the love of her handsome adopted brother, she instead finds the possibility of enormous success in the musical theater...
The marvelous Joséphine Baker is perfectly cast in the title role in this very enjoyable French film. With her enormous eyes & infectious smile, she connects with the viewer's heartstrings immediately. Her over-sized personality & obvious joy of performing make her a pure pleasure to watch. Here, Baker makes us care about what's happening to poor Zouzou, during her trials & triumphs.
Gallic star Jean Gabin is effective as Zouzou's seaman brother, but this is really Baker's time to shine, and he nicely underplays his scenes.
The film is well made, looking a little reminiscent of Busby Berkeley movies being produced at the same time in America - although unlike American films of this period, ZOUZOU hasn't any racism. It should be pointed out that there was no Hays Office or Production Code in France. Some of the dialogue & action is rather provocative, but it must be admitted that seeing Baker, strategically covered with tiny white feathers, sitting on a swing singing 'Haiti,' is one of the cinema's more memorable moments.
Joséphine Baker was born in St. Louis in 1906, into a very poor family. Her talent & driving ambition, however, soon pushed her into moving East and she was briefly a cast member of the Ziegfeld Follies. Realizing that America in the mid-1920's held great limitations for a gifted Black woman, she managed to get herself to Paris, where she eventually joined the Foliés-Bergeres & Le Negre Revue. The French adored her and she became a huge celebrity. A short return to America in 1935 showed Baker that things had not changed for African-Americans. She returned to France, became a French citizen & worked for the Resistance during the early days of the War. Baker relocated to Morocco for the duration and entertained Allied troops stationed there.
After the War, Baker's fortunes began to slide and she faced many financial & personal difficulties. For a while, she was even banned from returning to the United States. Finally, Baker accepted an offer from Princess Grace of Monaco to reside in the Principality. Joséphine Baker was on the verge of a comeback when she died of a stroke in 1975, at the age of 68.
Having appeared in only two decent films - ZOUZOU & PRINCESSE TAM TAM - Baker is in danger of becoming obscure. But she deserves her place alongside Chevalier, Dietrich & Robeson as one of her generation's truly legendary performers.
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