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The local building-contractor Martin Roumagnac is fascinated by the fashionable Blanche Ferrand. To impress Blache, Martin presents her with a villa. However, this ruins him financially. Despite Martin's many efforts for the now femme-fatal Blanche, she is not able to chose between him and the rich consul De Laubry. Written by
Builder Jean Gabin encounters femme fatale Marlene in a provincial French town
As a noir enthusiast, I was very pleased to be able to run into and see this film under the title "Martin Roumagnac", who is Gabin's character. Dietrich plays a woman with the reputation of attracting men to her room upstairs above her uncle's bird store, hence, the alternate title "The Room Upstairs". However, since Gabin's Roumagnac is central to the story, and not Dietrich's doings before she meets him, the original title is more descriptive.
Gabin is a builder. He falls for Dietrich, and she likes him. The problem is that she likes certain kinds of men in general. She's not the faithful type. Beyond that, she and her uncle have planned to trap a rich upper class consul into marriage once his wife dies (and she does).
In just under two hours, the story has plenty of time to develop complications. Gabin begins to neglect his business and become overextended. His reputation in the town declines and he loses business. We get a full development of his interactions with those in the town, who tend to be narrowminded and provincial. We also get a full development of Dietrich's character, named Blanche Ferrand. She is not a tart or a call girl or a prostitute by any stretch of the term. Hers is a more complex person. For example, when the consul does make a pitch for her, he is cold and places it on a monetary footing. She angers and rejects him as inferior to the much more boorish and unsophisticated Gabin (Martin). Gabin at least loves her and satisfies her.
There is more...but I am avoiding spoilers in this review.
This movie is not fully-developed in noir style in the photography and staging, even if the story is basically noir. Also, the script makes it come across more as 40s melodrama than as a harder-edged tale. This is not "Nora Prentiss" or "The Unfaithful", noirs that came out of Warner Bros. in 1947. The conclusion is, however, thoroughly noir.
I didn't know that Dietrich was in this, and that was a pleasant surprise. She handled the complexity of Blanche very well indeed. Supporting players did well in helping to create a fulfilling movie. Director Georges Lacombe may not be a Hitchcock, but he had his hands full, I am sure, on this project and the result was a credit to his work.
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