Enjoyable family film extolling kindness over discipline
We've seen the plot a gazillion times (unruly children in a boarding school type of setting under rigid discipline, act out and are tamed by new teacher with principles of kindness). Why, even Julie Andrews got to do this on a modest level in THE SOUND OF MUSIC.
The tale is told mainly in flashback. Since it is an extremely rare film stateside and it's taken me forty years to track it down, I'll summarize the story here.
Clement is an out of work writer, trying to get his novelette sold. His girlfriend's (Martine) mother disapproves of the liaison. Clement's friend, Raymond, works as a concierge/gofer in a newspaper office. He tries to get Clement's story (LA CAGE AUX ROSSIGNOLS) printed but the editor ignores it. When the editor approves a story with a similar title (LA CAGE AUX VERRES)for publication, Raymond switches the story, it is printed and is a hit. At this point Martine starts reading the story to her slowly tolerant mother and we enter flashback 18 minutes into the film. The flashback takes up the final hour.
Clement comes to a reform school to teach and finds the boys out of control under the supervision of a martinet. One has damaged the porter's eye with a prank. By treating the boys as adults and validating them, he wins them over into model pupils. He even brings the prankster to remorse for his actions. The boys learn to love Clement and behave for him. When he discovers accidentally that they have naturally beautiful voices, he organizes them into a choir which pleases the trustees of the school. He eventually leaves in a touching farewell.
Back to the present and the boys all surprise him by singing for him at his wedding, including a lad who rejected the group but whom Clement eventually won over.
This is all nicely done - the direction is solid, the film well-paced, the performers all likeable. Not a great film by any means but a very pleasant one. Micheline Francey who plays Martine is lovely but Noel-Noel, a popular French star and homely as almost all of their male stars were, does an okay job in a role seemingly meant for Jean Gabin.
If this was the first film to use this plot device then I would agree with its Oscar nomination for Best Original Story. If not, then not. The music is well done. Worth a look.
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