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This is one of those forgotten gems that is worth rediscovering. Constance Bennett plays an American married to a Frenchman. Their marriage is on the rocks. When the Germans invade Paris, she and her elderly British friend, Gracie Fields, try to drive to the countryside but are stopped and turned back by the German forces. On the way they pick up and hide a young British flyer shot down behind enemy lines and manage to smuggle him out of the country. It feels good so rather than escape themselves, they set about to organize an underground organization to do the same for other Allied troops shot down behind enemy lines. Tautly and dramatically directed by Gregory Ratoff, this is a marvelous drama, impeccably acted by all concerned (Bennett also produced the film) and with an involving, constantly interesting storyline. The dramatic score deservedly earned an Oscar nom but the Screenplay deserved one as well. Look for this one - it's one of the best of the wartime films.
This film is unjustly neglected, though it's readily available on DVD. Other comments here give a good plot summary, so I'll just comment on the film's strength's and weaknesses. The main weakness is that for what is basically a spy film, the suspense isn't very suspenseful -- it kept occurring to me how much better Hitchcock would have done it. But on the positive side the film is otherwise well directed, with very good acting (especially by Gracie Fields) vividly realizes the atmosphere of both Paris and the French countryside, and is beautifully photographed by Lee Garmes, one of the best Hollywood cinematographers. The ending turns surprisingly moving, and the score is one of the better ones of its time. I'd call it a film of broad interest which everyone will be glad to have seen once, especially if you appreciate good cinematography.
In a late example of a fading Hollywood star going to England for a career boost, delectable Constance Bennett plays a madcap, irresponsible Yankee stuck in occupied France. She's uses her glam appeal to aid the resistance & help Allied troops escape with the help of co-hort Gracie Fields, the Brit Music Hall star in her final screen perf. The whole unlikely enterprise is done with reasonable flair under surprisingly lively direction from Gregory Ratoff and stellar lighting from lenser Lee Garmes. Too bad no one was able to turn the corner for the last act when the film tries for a darker, more serious tone, but it's well worth a gander. As is the still jolie Mme Bennett.
Paris Underground (aka: Madame Pimpernell) is a solid British entry in
the war/intrigue genre produced immediately after cessation of
hostilities with Germany in 1945 by aging, but still glamorous,
American star Constance Bennett and distributed in the United States by
Ms. Bennett, a somewhat flighty American married to a French foreign office official, and her middle-age spinster pal Gracie Fields, while fleeing the city during the fall of Paris in 1940, find themselves by happenstance carrying a downed British aviator in the trunk of their automobile. Turned back to Paris by a German road bock, they have to take the flier back to hiding the Gracie's apartment. One of the best and most suspenseful scenes occurs when the girls have a flat with the pilot in the car's rear, and a Nazi officer stops to assist them! By hook and crook they eventually manage to smuggle the young aviator to Free France. Delighted with their success, they establish and underground railroad that eventually gets hundreds of allied airmen back to their bases. With a combination of American audacity and British pluck, these two brave and resourceful women cause the occupying Germans a big headache.
Sharply directed by Gregory Ratoff and atmospherically photographed by Lee Garmes, Paris Underground is tense, exciting, and believable. Acting by the two female leads is first rate with good support coming from Argentine actor George Rigaud as Ms. Bennett's husband, Kurt Kreuger as a suave but cruel Gestapo captain who would like to be more than friends with the ripely beautiful Ms. Bennett, and Eily Malyon as the grouchy concierge of Ms. Field's hotel. Editing is a little untidy in places, with some scenes taking too long to unfold. However, the story is never draggy, but engaging and exciting from beginning to end. Alexander Tansman's florid but stirring score, which drew an Academey Award nomination, drives the action along at a gallop.
This picture bears some resemblance to glitzier Joan Crawford vehicle Reunion In France (1942). While not up to competing head-up with that big hitter in the entertainment department, the more staid Paris Underground is somehow more believable and is an enjoyable, inspiring little potboiler in its own right for fans of the war/intrigue thriller.
I happen to be a fan of Constance Bennett's, and also an admirer - she
was not only a fine actress and a beautiful, glamorous woman, but a
crackerjack businesswoman and someone who worked hard for the war
Having hit 40, Bennett was no longer in demand for leads; in fact, in Two-Faced Woman, she'd had a supporting role. "Paris Underground" is a film she produced herself in England, and it's very good. It's the story of the American wife, Kitty de Mornay (Bennett) of a Frenchman (George Rigaud) who is swept into the Resistance when she's asked to help get an English flier back to London. The work excites and intrigues her so much, she decides not to leave France and instead, continue helping fliers escape. She is assisted in this by a nervous friend (Gracie Fields).
I found this a suspenseful and interesting film, and although it wasn't shot in France, some of the sets, like the baker's, were quite good. The performances are excellent. Rigaud as Kitty's husband is suave and likable; Kurt Krueger is excellent as a German officer who takes an interest in Kitty, and Gracie Fields, in her last role, though she lived until 1979, is wonderful as Kitty's friend.
This is a little known gem, and I thought it was well done.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Three years after Joan Crawford walked through an approaching crowd as
the Nazis entered Paris (with her hair unmussed), veteran actress
Constance Bennett took on the invading fifth columnists in order to
help stranded English soldiers get out of the country safely. Aiding
her in this is veteran English actress/music hall performer Gracie
Fields who doesn't get to be comical here as she was in earlier films.
The film really gets exciting during one moment when Bennett hides a
soldier in the trunk of her car and deals with Nazi soldiers who help
her change her tires. With suspicious landlady Eily Maylon supposedly
reporting her activities to the Nazi's, Bennett is soon being watched,
and this leads to an exciting confrontation where everybody in the
complex is threatened with torture and death unless the members of the
underground give themselves up. Unfortunately, the film doesn't
represent reality well in the conclusion which goes for the traditional
Hollywood happy ending rather than what probably would have happened in
a real life situation.
Made towards the end of the war, this pretty much seems to have lost its impact simply out of a "been there, done that" sort of feeling. Of course, there's the typical propaganda and a few moments of grave tension which are hand-gripping moments of true fear. Ms. Bennett was the film's producer which gives a good indication of why in her 40's she looks totally glamorous throughout. It's still entertaining, but one of those films on a much made topic that seems standard when compared to such classics as "The Mortal Storm", "Underground" and "Edge of Darkness".
I pretty much agree with the lukewarm review here entitled "Mediocre
war heroine tale." This is far from a "gem," as some people would have
The plot keeps moving and is mildly interesting, although without finger-biting suspense. We know pretty well how each situation will turn out, the romance, the hair's-breadth escapes, and so on. As the end approaches there is a little surprise, but it's all fixed up within minutes as victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat and medals are pinned on the heroines. Ho-hum. I barely kept myself from turning off the television.
Outdoor scenes are all shot in studio and look very fake. The foggy night scene in the fields--puleeze! The music has moments when it goes over the top.
Although the movie is set in France, French characters are insignificant, while the American and English ladies are large, ultimately heroic presences. It's certainly a narrow, nationalistic vision of "Paris underground." I did find it refreshing to see a movie, especially one focused on the conflicts of war, in which the lead characters are female.
Don't get excited about seeing this. Don't set aside important time for it. But if you run into it accidentally, you probably won't think it's a total waste of time.
I believe this film was also released with the title "Madame Pimpernel."
Constance Bennett produced this vehicle for herself, which was a fairly typical postwar story of Resistance heroism in Paris (no real location shooting, alas). Constance Bennett had plenty of energy but by this stage in her career she had no genuine charm. She battles her way through the part with determination, but just cannot engage the viewer. Her performance is too mannered, too exterior. Her chum Gracie Fields (in her last film role) does far better, is amusing, watchable, and engaging. A smoothie Frenchman, George Rigaud, plays Bennett's French husband, and he is very convincing at it. Young Kurt Kreuger is excellent as the Gestapo captain with whom Bennett forms an ambivalent semi-romantic friendship, while she is at the same time spiriting downed American and British airmen out of France with the aid of the Resistance. The film is not so bad one wouldn't want to watch it, but it avoids being good. Gregory Ratoff directed it, and it is not one of his finest achievements. If you are uncritical of such films, and do not expect too much, this could afford some diversion.
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