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Monsieur Feydeau has writer's block, and he needs a new play. But he takes an opportunity to observe the upper class of 1900 Paris - Monsieur Boniface with a domineering wife, and the next-door neglectful husband Henri with a beautiful but ignored wife Marcelle. Henri traces architectural anomalies (most ghost sounds are drains), and plans a night at the Hotel Paradiso; but this hotel is the assignation spot of Marcelle and Boniface. One wife, two husbands, a nephew, and the perky Boniface maid, all at this 'by the hour' hotel, and consummation of the affair is, to say the least, severely compromised (not the least by a police raid). All of this under Feydeau's eye, and his play is the 'success fou' of the next season. Written by
Bruce Cameron <email@example.com>
Georges Feydeau was the master of French farce. In 1957, British director Peter Glenville brought his London adaptation of one of Feydeau's best to Broadway's intimate Henry Miller's Theatre for 108 successful performances with an all star cast that included the great Bert Lahr and Angela Lansbury.
Nine years later, the same Peter Glenville brought his superb adaptation to the screen for MGM with Alec Guinness in the Bert Lahr role and Gina Lollorigida bringing her all too seldom seen comic timing (check out her wonderful 1961 boulevard comedy "Come September" with Rock Hudson and Walter Slezak) to the Angela Lansbury role. Even Broadway cast member Douglas Byng (as Martin, a barrister) was along for the fun.
Of COURSE the plotting is "strained" - that is virtually the definition of farce - but the laughs flow without reservation.
Americans don't often get to see good European style farce which relies on situations, intellect and language as much as physical comedy. When we DO get a great farce like "Arsenic and Old Lace" or Noises Off", it is usually devoid of all sexual content - as if sex (not dirt, but good clean sex with all the ironies and insecurities attendant) weren't among the greatest sources of farcical situations.
Glenville gives us Feydeau at his most elegant - which is to say unashamedly sexual (with would-be adulterous spouses, potential lovers and innocents in a waltz of slamming doors and crowded corridors at the titular hotel), at the same time keeping the proceedings intrinsically moral and (for those foolish enough to care) absolutely clean.
The Belle Epoche settings fairly sing with civilized delight, and the brilliant farceurs like Robert Morley and Derek Fowlds (later known for his third lead in the brilliantly observed "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" TV series) join the leads in a collective tour de farce.
Watch for Glenville himself in the unbilled role of Feydeau, observing and "writing" the proceedings, but by all means watch. This is all a stage to film transfer should be. You'll have a lovely time and feel the better for it.
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