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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Pierre Fresnay was one of the greatest actors of the French cinema.His
name is dear to the French audience and among his huge filmography
,let's mention "Marius/César/fanny" (Pagnol)"the man who knew too much"
(Hitchcock,1934)"la Grande Illusion" (Renoir)"l'Assassin Habite au 21"
and "Le Corbeau" (Clouzot)Monsieur Vincent (Cloche) ,the largely
overlooked "la Fille du Diable" (Decoin) "le Visiteur" (Dréville) and
above all "La Main du Diable" (Tourneur) one of the few fantasy and
horror French films which compares favorably with the best
English,American and Italian ones...
Unfortunately,he had one of the worst end of career one can think of...The slump began circa 1952 with his mediocre "Il est Minuit Dr Schweitzer".If that was bad ,"Le défroqué" (Léo Joannon)was worse,a dreadful story of a defrocked priest who tries to corrupt a young seminarian (the scene when he forces him to vomit his dinner and to drink a whole bucket of "consacrated" white wine is priceless).
1956 saw Fresnay teaming up again with Joannon -who is said to have made interesting works circa 1940,but who in the fifties was lost in grotesque Sulpician farces - .Not as ludicrous as "le Défroqué" (how could it be?) ,"L'Homme Aux Clés d'Or " is not better for all that and less funny.
A noble loyal English teacher is falsely accused of rape and loses his job.The scene when Annie Girardot pretends she is sexually assaulted is an example of hilarious directing by Joannon: you should see her scream through the window,rip her clothes and try to get out of the room where a stupefied Fresnay sits there like a great lump.That was three students' bad revenge .They were caught in the act when they were stealing money from the teacher's office.
The teacher becomes a porter in a hotel,but as he is very good at English and other languages ,he quickly gets promotion and soon finds a good job in a luxury hotel in Monte Carlo.
Time passes...As everybody knows,revenge is a dish best eaten cold . The rich kids -what a coincidence- spend their holidays in Monaco,in THAT hotel.Time has come.And Monte Carlo is a good place to help a young bourgeois lose all his money gambling.The man with the golden keys (what a stupid title) is ready and waiting for them.
Like "Le défroqué" or the astounding "Désert de Pigalle" ,"L'Homme aux Clés d'Or" wants to be an edifying movie ! Fresnay,taking masochism to new limits,delivers this famous last line: "I'm the one to blame,had I punished those little devils,nothing would have happened!"So ,as Graham Nash would naively sing "teach your children well,the fathers' hell will slowly go by!"
I'm amazed how fantastic this film is. Good actors, good direction and very nice music. CONGRATULATIONS!
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