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Gerard Oury, who recently died ,made a remake in 1999 starring Smain
and Sabine Azéma.It was greeted by a poor reception in France and the
users on the IMDb agree,given its very low rating.
One cannot redo a Pagnol movie ,one cannot take on a Fernandel part.They were unique.
Not that "Le Schpounz" is a perfect movie:its last part (or should I say its last act for,as most of Pagnol's movies of that era,it was first a play) drags on a bit too much.
"Le Schpounz" is not a word which is in the French dictionary;it means "idiot' "moron".
Irénée (Fernandel) is sick and tired of working in his uncle 's(Charpin) grocery.He's dreaming of Hollywood .One day a film crew stops in his small village and have the poor moron sign a phony contract for Meyerboum productions.The poor fool really believes he is bound for glory so he takes a train to Paris where he is subject to bad jokes again until...
Fernandel easily switches from laughter to tears,and his words ,when he discovers he's been led up the garden path ,are bitter and harsh.There are interesting thoughts about a comic actor ,particularly when Orane Demazis talks about Charlie Chaplin.
Like "Topaze" (1932 and 1950) it's also a revenge :Irénée was humiliated in his grocery (this boy is no good at anything!)as Topaze was a ridiculous little teacher in love with his headmaster's daughter who laughed behind his back.Both have made their way of life:the former has become a star,the latter a businessman.Irenée,however,remains a nice person (so does his uncle who 's got a heart of gold in fact) whereas Jouvet made Topaze a disturbing character in the first version.
NB.Watch out for Pierre Brasseur's cameo as "Cousine" ,a gay who thinks that men should not marry women.(sic)
I like this film. It stands out as something completely different in the catalog of Pagnol films - not quite free of the heavy sentiment, but approaching being truly screwball. Irenee's idiotic hopefulness isn't as touching as it is funny - a triumph of Fernandel's hulking gawkiness. Somewhere out there the Marx Brothers, Alphonse Allais and Mark Twain are probably smiling.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Fernandel is an extraordinarily expressive actor. His figure is bulky
and his droopy face seem made up of two disparate elements. There are
his eyes under their dark, arching brows, that can open to the size of
old-fashioned pilot's goggles or narrow into almost sinister slits.
Then there is his massive jaw that belongs more properly on Piltdown
Man if Piltdown Man had existed. He has large paws too, and they're
always being waved around or jabbing the air emphatically. He's always
running off at the hands.
The story has him as a buffoon in his uncle's grocery store in Marseille. A visiting troupe of movie people find his ambition to be a star amusing and have him sign a ludicrous contract. The fake contract includes clauses that compensate him for any disease contracted during shoots in exotic locations. He's paid in local currency so that he can immediately pay the native doctors who will tend his maladies. For frostbite, he's paid in rubles. For elephantiasis, Rupees. For sleeping sickness, he gets a few elephant tusks. And for seal bites, he's paid six smoked fish.
His family back at the grocery recognize this as the prank it is, but Fernandel musters all the money he can and travels to Studio France in Paris. They're surprised to see him but still manage to pull one humiliating prank after another until Fernandel is finally discovered to be a great comic.
He returns with his new wife to the Marseilles grocery and pretends to be a failure, but he's greeted with open arms as the prodigal son. All is resolved happily.
If it isn't consistently hilarious, it's still funny enough to carry the story along despite the occasional talky passages. Those talky passages can't be recklessly dismissed. There's a longish, rather philosophical exchange between Fernandel, who doesn't want to debase himself as a comedian, and his girl friend, who argues that comedy is a social service, a kind of moral calling, that helps the poor, the dying, and the bereaved. It makes at least as much sense as Joel McRae's conversion to comedy in "Sullivan's Travels." And some of the speeches -- the uncle's reading the final letter from Fernandel's father, dying in a tent in Africa after wasting his life in pursuit of the Golden Fleece, is touching.
The story itself, like Fernandel's face, is divided into separate parts. (1) His being tricked into traveling to Paris. (2) His "career" in the movies. And (3) his return to his sausage-slicing and good-hearted family. It hardly hangs together but then the story isn't really plot driven anyway. It's more about character and the relationship between humility and grandiosity.
I kept waiting, half expecting it to pass over the line into terminal dullness but it never did.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Coming from the French theatre to the French cinema at more or less the same time that Sound came to the French cinema Marcel Pagnol set the bar exceptionally high with his outstanding trilogy Marius, Fanny and Cesar and toward the end of the decade he did so again with La Femme du boulanger so if in between he himself failed to reach that bar that he himself had set we shouldn't be too hard on him. Le Schpountz top-bills Fernandel, another actor from the midi like Raimu, Yves Montand and Pagnol himself. No Raimu this time but Charpin and Orane Demazis (Pagnol's girl friend) from the Trilogy were on hand and Raimu would be back the following year in La Fille de la puisatier (the last French- made film to be released in France in 1940 until after the Occupation). Though no Baker's Wife or Cesar it's a pleasant enough and very watchable divertissement with more than a passing nod to the Kaufman- Hart 'Once In A Lifetime' in which a dork rises to become Head of a Studio. In this case Irenee rises to become merely a leading comic actor and in passing win the hand and heart of Oran Demazis (he probably wouldn't have aspired to her acting ability which makes Tippi Hedren look like Meryl Streep). In the third act Pierre Brasseur pops up out of left field which only adds to the fun. It's 1930s, it's French. Cherish it.
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