6.2/10
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The Winner's Circle (1950)

Premières armes (original title)
A cruel depiction of the passage from childhood to adolescence.

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Cast

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Yvonne
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Simon
Guy Decomble ...
Émile
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Victor
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Michel
Henri Poupon ...
Le père Lelarge
Roger Rafal ...
Barrymore
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Lucienne
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Storyline

The heroes are young boys ,trained as jockeys in a horse farm . The trainers are actually human wrecks : Simon,a former jockey lives in the past , telling a not-so-glorious career which leaves him a frustrated man ;Victor a crude brute , who mistreats his novices ,but in fact a man longing to be loved .A friendship between two of the boys,René and Josito ,arises from this depressing atmosphere ;abetted by the boss' wife ,the only sympathetic adult character,they decorate their room , make it friendlier.But the other boys are not prepared to accept such a beautiful camaraderie ,and they sneer at them.. Written by dbdumonteil

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Drama

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5 May 1957 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Winner's Circle  »

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1.37 : 1
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Riding for a fall
30 December 2016 | by See all my reviews

The first of screenwriter René wheeler's three movies, and another lost gem of the pre-Nouvelle Vague days ,the fifties old school cinema at its best .

Although the main heroes are young boys ,trained as jockeys in a horse farm ,this work cannot be ,by no means,labeled " for the whole family";it is a cruel depiction of the passage from childhood to adolescence which leaves Truffaut and Antoine Doinel far behind .It is ,reportedly,based on the director's own life.

The place where the action takes place is worthy of Clouzot: the lugubrious canteen,the stables where they make men out of boys ,with hazing and humiliations ,the seedy rooms ,and the hateful adults who exploit the kids ,some kind of "white young slave trade",in the writer's own words.

The trainers are actually human wrecks , Simon,a former jockey who lives in the past , telling a not-so-glorious career which leaves him a frustrated man ;Victor a crude brute , who mistreats his novices ,but in fact a man longing to be loved ,(Paul Frankeur recalls sometimes the great Michel Simon in "Quai Des Brumes" ) , a poor pitiful human being the viewer cannot hate.

A friendship between two of the boys,René (sic) and Josito arises from this depressing atmosphere ;abetted by the boss's wife (the luminous Michele Alfa) ,the only sympathetic adult character,they decorate their room , make it friendlier ;this woman plays,relatively speaking ,the role of Mrs Reynolds in Robert Anderson's "tea and sympathy".But the other boys are not prepared to accept such a beautiful camaraderie ,and they sneer at what they would call " a homosexual friendship " : in the early fifties,it was still a taboo and it is much to wheeler's credit to depict ,with an incredible cruelty, this delicate situation: the brothel where the boys wind up to prove "the others" they are true men, the completely wrecked room ,with horse manure all over the place ,nothing is spared the viewer.The Office Catholique Du Cinema made no mistake when they had firm reservations about this work.

This is a somber story ,with a pessimism to rival those of Duvivier and Clouzot ; except for the trip by train ,and the short moment of happiness in "their" room , no sun shines on René whose father goes as far as to call him "selfish" ;and can one really call the papa and son final reunion a happy end ?

No cardboard characters ,no clichés:embittered grownups who sadistically (and perhaps unconsciously) want their trainee jockeys to resemble them ;the movie begins with horse races where posh people bet in Longchamps :what follows is the dark side of the picture.


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