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Is Paris Burning? (1966)

Paris brûle-t-il? (original title)
The departure of the German army from Paris in 1944.

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Writers:

(book), (book) | 7 more credits »
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Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 2 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
Pierrelot - Yvon Morandat
...
Docteur Monod
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Françoise Labé
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Lieutenant Henri Karcher
...
GI in Tank (as Georges Chakiris)
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Colonel Rol-Tanguy
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Colonel Lebel
...
...
...
Cerat - Alexandre Parodi
...
...
...
Yves Bayet
Georges Géret ...
The Baker
...
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Storyline

In this sprawling, star-laden film, we see the struggles of various French resistance factions to regain control of Paris near the end of World War II. The Nazi general in charge of Paris, Dietrich von Cholitz (Fröbe), is under orders from Hitler himself to burn the city if he cannot control it or if the Allies get too close. Much of the drama centers around the moral deliberations of the general, the Swedish ambassador (Welles), and the eager but desperate leaders of the resistance. Written by Carl J. Youngdahl <zomno@casbah.acns.nwu.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

"Burn Paris!" was the order that had come shrieking over the phone. See more »

Genres:

Drama | History | War

Certificate:

See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

|

Language:

| |

Release Date:

26 October 1966 (France)  »

Also Known As:

¿Arde París?  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(70 mm prints) (Westrex Recording System)| (35 mm prints)

Color:

(archive footage)| |

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

A French postman felt off his bicycle on the Champs Elysées, when he saw some extras dressed as German soldiers crossing the avenue during a lunch pause. He ran out screaming, "They're back! They're back!" See more »

Goofs

German sappers are shown setting conventional explosives on Paris bridges. The Germans actually set used surplus naval torpedoes under the bridges. See more »

Quotes

Le boulanger: [a Resistance worker, of two village cops] I use them because of their uniforms. The Germans have respect for uniforms. Conditioned reflex.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The end credit sequence is in color. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Hogan's Heroes: Is General Hammerschlag Burning? (1967) See more »

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User Reviews

 
A city on the edge of destruction
16 July 2007 | by (London, England) – See all my reviews

If the tagline for It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was 'Everyone whose ever been funny is in it,' then Rene Clement's epic could almost lay claim that 'Anyone who's ever been French is in it,' assembling Alain Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Charles Boyer, Leslie Caron, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, Michel Piccoli, Jean-Louis Trintignant and others in a spectacular retelling of the Liberation of Paris. Even that was not enough for Paramount, who wanted another Longest Day and padded out the American roles with largely blink-and-you'll-miss-'em cameos by Kirk Douglas, Glenn Ford and Robert Stack. Of the non-French top-liners, only Orson Welles as the Swedish consul frantically trying to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, and Gert Frobe as the general tasked with defending or destroying the city, play a major role in the film. Their scenes easily the best in the somewhat disjointed picture, never lapsing into simple stereotyping and giving a credible face to history.

Most of the heavyweight French cast are not much more than cameos either, with the bulk of the film falling on lesser-billed Bruno Cremer and Peter Vaneck's shoulders, although both characters highlight the fact that somewhere along the way the film got somewhat depoliticised from Collins and Lapierre's superb book – both Colonel Rol-Tanguy and Major Gallois/Cocteau were key figures in the communist resistance, though you'd never know it from the film. Although the De Gaullist figures often identified as such, the left don't fare so well: ironic considering one of the strengths of the book was in showing the political infighting and jockeying for position between the De Gaullists and the communist resistance. Collaboration barely gets a mention either: this is predominantly triumphalist in tone, and as such its often very effective, with several sections carrying a real surge of jubilation as the people take their city back.

Despite the political dilution that one suspects was a consequence of getting both the essential co-operation from de Gaulle's government and the equally essential dollars from Paramount, it does a good job of making the constantly shifting strategies and increasingly chaotic events accessible while keeping the momentum up, but as with most spot-the-star WW2 epics, it's the vignettes that stick most firmly in the mind: a German soldier, his uniform still smouldering, staggering away from a blown-up truck only to be ignored by a businessman blithely going to work as if nothing were happening; a female resistance worker delivering instructions for the uprising being offered a lift by an unsuspecting German officer after her bike gets a puncture; French soldiers picking off Germans from an apartment while the little old lady who lives there excitedly watches as she drinks her tea; Jean-Paul Belmondo and Marie Versini crawling across a road with their bikes to avoid snipers while a gay man walking his dog watches, before going on to liberate the seat of government without a shot being fired because the civil servants there habitually do what they're told by anyone in authority; an armoured unit getting a dozen different directions to their destination by Parisians; SS men casually looking through Von Choltitz's papers out of force of habit; and the general suddenly finding himself alone in a restaurant as the bells of Paris ring out for the first time in four years to proclaim the Allies' arrival.

The Americans don't fare as well, all-too obviously being there simply for marquee value (prominently billed George Chakhiris is in it for less than 30 seconds!), although Anthony Perkins' soldier acting more like a tourist is at least memorable. In many ways the two real stars of the film are the city of Paris and Maurice Jarre's excellent score, the film's only real constant factors as the stars come and go and events move forward. For the most part the film avoids the tourist shots with a great use of locations, giving a sense of a place where people actually live and die, while Jarre's score manages to counterpoint a militant piano-led theme for the Nazi Occupation with an increasingly stirring resistance theme that constantly runs underneath it, gradually working its way out of hiding and constantly gaining ascendancy before finally flowering into a vivid and triumphant waltz for the Liberation.

A somewhat ill-fated production - producer Paul Graetz died of a heart attack during filming – it was a huge but much-criticised success in France but a conspicuous box-office failure everywhere else, with Paramount swearing off the epic genre for decades to come and Rene Clement's career never really recovering: his last major film, he wouldn't work again for another three years and only made four more films. Best remembered today for Plein Soleil/Purple Noon, La Bataille du Rail and the Oscar-winning Jeux Interdit/Forbidden Games, and his direction is for the most part superb, be it the control of a chillingly formal tracking shot along a railway platform casually revealing and passing a dead body or the edgy hand-held work during some of the makeshift street fights. Although the decision to film in black and white which would hurt the film so much at the box-office and on television was reputedly forced on the film by the French government's refusal to allow the film to fly red and black Nazi flags over the city (grey and black, however, were permitted), it works to the film's advantage, not only allowing it to incorporate genuine archive footage a little more skilfully than is the norm but also gives it a more verite feel thanks to Marcel Grignon's naturalistic photography.

If at times this feels less like the classic it could have been and more like the best film that could be made under the political and financial circumstances, it's still an impressive and occasionally compelling recreation of a unique moment in history that deserves to be at least a little better known and better regarded than it is.


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