Based on a forgotten novel by Jean Aicard which had spawned no less than two movies (keeping the title of the book :"Le Roi De Camargue" )the first one in the silent era by Jean Hugon ,another one in the thirties by Jacques De Baroncelli featuring Charles Vanel.
And then a third version called "Le Gardian" (a cowboy from Camargue),a vehicle for heart-throb Tino Rossi ,who had a golden voice but whose acting ability was limited:and sing ,Tino does,including a duet with the female star ,a campfire song and even a canticle in Latin ,musically his best moment.
The screenplay ,had it been treated by a good director ,someone like Douglas Sirk (who knew how to make a funeral grandiose ,as "imitation life " (1959) shows ),would have produced something haunting ;I've not seen Baroncelli's version ,but that man had a sense of mystery which is definitely lacking in the 1949 effort.
The movie begins with a threat ,almost a curse a gypsy ,La Zinzara ,calls down upon an innocent maid ,Gardian Renaud's fiancée;then a bewildering prediction by the fortune-teller "I see bells pealing out ,you're all white ./Is Renaud here?/Yes,he is,he wears black).La Zinzara appears topless then we see her whole naked body (not full frontal all the same):she epitomizes evil and she knows that Renaud will give in temptation;he is no saint anyway : with one of his pals ,he speaks of older love affairs .
Female nudity and the chaste heroine ,telling her dad and the venerable vicar she is not Sleeping Beauty and that she wants Renaud as a lover,and a suicide to boot,it was enough to infuriate the Office CAtholique Du Cinema ,which advises his flock against "Le Gardian" whereas Tino Rossi's movies were generally harmless.
La Camargue,with its "MANADES "(herd of horses) ,and its Gardians (cowboys) is the French wild west,so to speak ,but it is not a safe place to be ;stories which take place in this region have a bad end :Frederic Mistral's "Mireille"(transferred to the screen in the thirties),Daudet's "L'Arlésienne"(movie from 1941) or Aicard's "Roi De Camargue" all have tragical conclusions .
In spite of its Provençal Joie De Vivre,its bullfights ,its folklore ,its gay farandoles ,its gypsies on their way to the Saintes Maries De La Mer pilgrimage (Mary Magdalene would have ended her life there),La Camargue is not a place where "heroes lived happily ever after."
For the record,Rossi worked with his wife ,Lilia Vetti :and she played the bad gal!
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