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Charles Spaak changed the name of practically all the characters from the original Russian novel to make them sound more French: Alexei Ivanovich Veltchaninov (played by Aimé Clariond) is renamed "Michel"; Pavel Pavlovich Trousotsky (played by Raimu) is now called "Nicolas"; Nadia Zakhlebinina (played by Micheline Boudet) is re-christened "Agathe", Klavdia Petrovna (played by Gisèle Casadesus) is called "Marie" and so on. See more »
Although based on Dostoyevsky's novel,and in spite of the Russian names ,Pierre Billon,unlike his thirties colleagues ,did not try to re-create a Russian atmosphere,the story could take place anywhere.
This is Pierre Billon's towering achievement ,the only movie in a rather uneven filmography which includes such estimable works as "Vautrin" "Ruy Blas" "Agnès De Rien" or " Chéri" ,which can be ranked as high as the best of Duvivier and Clouzot with whom he shares here a fascination for the darkness of the human soul .
That was to be Raimu's last part ,and he did leave on a high note ,this man with a derby (bowler hat)is his final triumph! A widower comes to see a former womanizer who is his only daughter's biological daughter ;then begins a cruel game between the two men . Raimu ,for the first and only time in his career ,is almost scary;matching him all the way is Aimé Clarion's old beau , who tries to redeem himself by taking care of the little girl and to relive his youth with a seventeen-year -old maid.In their infernal cat and mouse play,Raimu has always the upper hand but you cannot tell good from evil .
The director works with his camera like a painter does with shadows and light: it's the triumph of studio cinema:the obscure bedroom where Michel is haunted by ghosts from the past ,the dirty alleys where Nicolas roams,stalking his prey,the muddy yard where his daughter plays with the street urchins(in sharp contrast to the country mansion,where the children seems straight out of a Comtesse De Ségur novel)
-Nicolas ,pretending to hang himself,in front of his terrified daughter;one of the ten most atrocious scenes of the French cinema.
-The same,simulating sympathy for the family of a dead dashing officer.
-The blind man's buff game .
-The reception in the lounge where the self -interested selfish parents (Louis Seigner and Jeanne Marken) "sell" their offspring.
-The sweet Marie (Gisele Casadesus ,now a centenarian ,and still working:"Sous Le Figuier ""La Tête En Friche"aka "My afternoon with Margueritte") comforting Lisa and desperately trying to save her from her doomed fate.
An absolute must.
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