Volpone, an elderly Venetian, connives with his money-crazed servant to convince his greedy friends that he is dying, knowing that each will try to curry favor with him in order to be named...
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Volpone, an elderly Venetian, connives with his money-crazed servant to convince his greedy friends that he is dying, knowing that each will try to curry favor with him in order to be named his heir. He is inundated with valuable gifts, and soon finds himself entangled deeper and deeper in a web of lies. Written by
Maurice Tourneur's "war years" ,with the exception of "Mam'zelle Bonaparte " one of the few duds featuring Edwige Feuillère ,were a good time for him:"Péchés De Jeunesse" and "le Val D'Enfer" were pure Petainist moral but are still watchable for all that ;"Cecile Est Morte" was a good Simenon story;"La Main Du Diable" is his absolute masterpiece ,one of the rare attempts at a fantasy and horror movie which brilliantly succeeds in this country;its influence was strong on his son Jack's "Curse of the demon" (check the titles).
And then there's "Volpone" .With a cast as stellar as this one ,how could a director be wrong?Some movies are protected by their own actors. Watching Harry Baur and Louis Jouvet together is just a joy .Add Fernand Ledoux and Jacqueline Delubac,Guitry's wife (for a while)and you've got one of the best casts of the Occupation days.Ben Johnson's work was adapted by a genuine French writer ,Jules Romains ,whose novels were often transferred to the screen,and the lines are often witty ,even nasty ,with lots of black humor.Tourneur's directing is one of his best for its disposable funds were probably not that much high at the time and he successfully recreated Venice in the studio with talent and skill.We've never the feeling we're watching a filmed stage production .And anyway Harry Baur,using a falsetto voice when he is dying,and taking from his neighbors everything he can steal with a little help from his good friend Mosca (Jouvet) who is even foxier than the fox ,portrayed a memorable Volpone.
"Volpone" can grab today's audience:its subject is money ,money ,money,lust for wealth .The lure of gain drive people to selling their wives or sons or daughters .How many lines featuring the word "sequin"?"Volpone" could be updated and remade in 2010 and the plot wouldn't have to be modified much.Anyway,Joseph L.Mankiewicz did it in 1967 where Cecil Fox ,helped by MacFly (check the names),was pretending he was about to die to lure his former lovers into a trap with promises of fortune .Frederick Knott replaced Jules Romains and the movie would have deserved a better fate .
After a lot of brilliant movies (notably by the great Duvivier) ,Harry Baur ended his career on a high note: "Volpone" and "L"assassinat Du Père Noel" were splendid Swansongs.I have not seen yet his final (German) performance in "Symphonie Eines Lebens" .He was given away to the sinister Gestapo (they supposed he was a Jew;his late wife was but he wasn't.He was tortured and when he was released he weighed less than 40 kg (88 pounds)and died soon afterward.He was only 63.It was a major loss for the French cinema and stage.
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