In 1942 Jean Stelli had a huge success with the weepie "Le Voile bleu". It starred Gaby Morlay as a nanny who, having lost her own child, devotes her life to the children of others. Even today, the final scene can induce moisture in uncynical eyes.
In 1943 Robert Péguy tried to repeat that success with "Les Ailes blanches". It stars Gaby Morlay as a nun who, having lost her only love, devotes her life to helping other desperate women. We learn of Sister Claire's story in a flashback, while she's pondering the case of a pregnant girl who's been abandoned by her lover and rejected by her father (Saturnin Fabre).
The film did not achieve the success of "Le Voile bleu" and it's not hard to see why. The two plots - the frame story and the flashback - are hackneyed melodramas without even the compensation of a tearjerker ending. 50-year-old Gaby Morlay, who had been so moving as the selfless nanny in the earlier film, gives an arid performance as the elderly nun, and an unconvincing one as her teenage self, squeezed into party frocks and giant bows.
I found myself foraging for whatever morsels I could find in this unappetising pudding. One such morsel is Saturnin Fabre, a splendidly old-fashioned and over-the-top character actor who is continually swerving between broad comedy and high tragedy, and occasionally achieving both at the same time. Whenever my interest started to flag, they would wheel on Saturnin Fabre for another scene and all would be well.
Another tasty morsel, but at the opposite end of the dramatic register from Saturnin Fabre, is Jacqueline Bouvier. She gives such a fresh, lively, modern performance in this (her second) film, it's as if she's tumbled backwards out of a swinging fifties movie. I particularly enjoyed the part where she appears bare-legged in a showgirl costume. Those scenes had great technical merit, I thought.
Mademoiselle Bouvier later became Madame Marcel Pagnol. She starred in several of her husband's films, all of which are better than this.
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