Anyone who loves French cinema is likely to salivate just reading the Opening Credits of this entry. Despite propaganda to the contrary films begin with SCREENPLAYS - show me the 'auteur' who can shoot a ream of Blank paper and I'll show you someone who doesn't exist - and here we have not only Charles Spaak, one of the four (together with Jean Aurenche, Henri Jeanson and Jacques Prevert) Outstanding writers of the early Sound-to-post-War French cinema but also Albert Valentin whose work on Boudu Saved From Drowning was uncredited but went on to write 'La ciel est a vous' (also with Spaak), 'La vie de plaisir' and 'Le Mouton a cinq pattes' and directed three of the finest films in French cinema, 'L'Entraineuse', 'Marie-Martine' and 'La Vie de plaisir'. Behind the camera was Jean Gremillon, often consigned to footnote status in the reference books but a very fine director indeed who had already released 'Dainah Le Metisse' and 'Guele d'amour' and would go on to shoot 'Remorques', 'Lumiere d'ete' and 'Le Ciel est a vous' among others. Towering above the cast was Raimu; outside France it was Jean Gabin who received all the attention and this was not undeserved as he was an exceptional actor but WITHIN France Raimu was the 'man'. An accomplished stage actor he had already made a handful of silent films when he replicated his stage performance in Marius, the first episode of the great Marcel Pagnol trilogy and from then on his career as a star of the screen was assured. Closely associated with Pagnol he worked also with many of the top French directors running the gamut from tragedy to comedy. Playing his wife here was Madeleine Renaud, also an accomplished stage actress who would become Gremillon's favorite actress and appear in three more of his finest films, Remorques, Lumiere d'ete and Le Ciel est a vous.
If the opening credits activated the taste-buds the film itself delivers a banquet with Raimu as the essentially mild businessman who allows himself to become tainted by organized crime but attempts to extricate himself when his much younger wife (Renaud) presents him with a son. Inadvertently he kills the mobster who is leaning on him but a totally innocent man, Bastien (Pierre Blancher) is found guilty and draws ten years in the slammer. The film then becomes an early psychological study of a good man dealing with guilt and growing apart from family and friends. In a wonderful twist Blancher escapes after serving just over half of his sentence and Raimu takes him in thus forming an unwitting menage a trois (Blancher's own wife, Viviane Romance, had quickly divorced him following his incarceration, leaving him free to fall for Renaud). In 1938 this was a very sophisticated screenplay which is acted to the hilt and remains one of the most satisfying accomplishments of thirties French cinema. Once again my thanks to the Norwegian guy without whom ...
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