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Hold the fort for what it's worth
From "Le Défroqué" onwards ,most of Leo Joannon's movies are steeped in Sulpitian kitsch ,an indomitable faith in God and self-sacrifice.
This may be seemingly a war movie :during Indo-China war ,French soldiers and their protégés ,Christian refugees ,take refuge in a fort ("Fort Du Fou"= the lunatic's fort);in the army there are also Vietnamese recruits "traitors to their cause" for the Viet-Minhs .
Anyone who knows Joannon's immediate past would expect the worst :against all odds,the director managed this absurd task pretty well.
The fort is surrounded by the enemy,the Minhs ,and the besieged are eagerly waiting for a convoy of reinforcements ,food and medicines.Inside ,the soldiers are feeling down in the dumps but the -Vietnamise- priest has the children sing "Il Est Né Le Divin Infant " and "Je Suis Chretien " in their own language .
All around the fort,loudspeakers scream at imperialism,shout angrily at the traitors and the French lieutenant ;blowing hot and cold,the propaganda and the messages become more and more personal :the captain's private life is revealed:he secretly married a Vietnamese woman who cheated on him with the famous lieutenant.
Joannon,with a great economy of means ,succeeded in building a tension,a stifling atmosphere with those voices which seem to come from nowhere ;true to himself,he praises self-sacrifice (see "Le Défroqué " "Le Secret De Sur Angèle" "Le Désert De Pigalle") ,but this time without becoming ridiculous.
Crime et châtiment (1956)
This pawnbroker represents all that I hate
The cast and credits read "inspired by Dostoïevski" and it is obvious that not only the novel has undergone some changes ,but the movie also fails to capture the soul of Russia.Instead,we have a fifties french film Noir in the grand tradition of "La Neige Était Sale" ,"Voici Le Temps Des Assassins " "Avant Le Deluge" "Le Septième Juré " ....
Charles wrote a depressing screenplay ,depicting a world where the sun never shines on the poor:"we're already dead",says Lily the Hooker who puts her trust in God though ;but the hero can only kneel down to human destitution:thus the scene involving Yvette Etievant and her barfly of a husband is perhaps the most impressive in the movie .René (Raskolnikov)'s crime is no greed but rebellion against the establishment ,he tells it so to superintendent Gallet (Porphyre).By introducing René's mother and his sister,he discovers there are two kind of prostitution:Lily who feeds her drunken father's wife and kids ;her own sister,only 18,who is to make a money match with a vicious antique dealer,fond of very Young girls he lures with clothes or bars of chocolate,who also helped her old wife to commit suicide (but this kind of crime is not punished by a society which is hard only on humble people ).
Directing by Georges Lampin is efficient ,but it 's mainly the cast and the performances which can attract today's audience :Gabin,Blain,and Gabrielle Fontan -here cast as the usurer- would team up again in Duvivier's "Voici Le Temps Des Assassins" ;Bernard Blier is cast against type as a cynical antique dealer:the last face he will see will be that of Marina Vlady ,his daughter in "Avant Le Deluge".Vlady had married Robert Hossein the year before and they would often work together afterward .Hossein is the stand out ,his performance of the feverish desperate tormented student is very convincing .
More faithful to the book : Pierre Chenal's version .(1935)
The Desperados (1969)
Hate runs in the family.
Jack Palance is much too Young to be a credible patriarch;how can we believe this par excellence "villain" ,Edwards ,Maharis and co are a family unit?When he is directed by an efficient man (Fleischer,Aldrich),Palance can be great ;when he is left to his own devices ,like in "desperados" ,he can be awful,overplaying and bawling his curse on the good son and invoking Cain.The movie had biblical pretensions :after his sons and his henchmen ransack the town ,daddy compares it to God's wrath on Sodom.For 1969,it is a violent movie ,and it may have puzzled the audience for its lack of a real happy end.Besides,Sylvia Syms enjoys a swim in the nude in the river.
The tale,in which the brothers' jealousy sometimes recalls that of Joseph's brothers (Bible again), could have produced a worthwhile work,had it been given a good director and a good writer:but the story is desultory,the part of the mother who could have been interesting,had the flashbacks not been botched ;Devoid of a dramatic structure,for the scenes are repetitive ,"desperados" is a missed opportunity.
Derrière les murs (2011)
The little girl vanished
Filmed on location in splendid French rural landscapes ,"Derrière Les Murs" spares us special effects,monsters,gore ,and we should be grateful just for that;this is actually hardly a horror and fantasy movie .The music and the treatment are deceptive;so is Casta's performance,whose face remains mysterious and inscrutable,a la Nicole Kidman in "the others" she often recalls ,particularly in the scene her pupil reads "the little red riding Hood" (which is nothing but a wrong track).
As a psychological drama,the ending makes sense ;as a horror flick ,it must have disappointed its audience .When she wanders through the darkness of the basement,the heroine is actually in search of herself :although she has an affair with a man who tries to help her ,she remains a stranger in a land where she is an intruder .
The movie is essentially diurnal ,except from some lovely scenes such as the villagers' torches ,dots of lights searching the blackness of the night.
Roger Dumas,who played the part of Gabin's son in "Rue Des prairies"(1959) ,appears as an old priest.
Amour et compagnie (1950)
Gilles Grangier's forte ,in the fifties,was the thriller;this musical finds him on foreign territory .
Another vehicle for heartthrob singer Georges Guétary who sings less than usually ,but barks,mews,moos,chirps and imitates motors and other sound effects .And a trio of black singers (the Peter sisters ) and a violinist take to the stage instead of him.
The beginning of the plot bears some resemblance to Jules Verne's "Tribulations D'Un Chinois En Chine" (which Philippe De Broca transferred to the screen with Jean-Paul Belmondo in 1965):A suicidal South American took out huge life assurance and the insurance company frets over the future;one of their employees (Guétary) and an executive's niece (Gaby Sylvia) are sent to what's the insured person is up to.
In fact ,the plot is very derivative ;some good moments are to be found in the second part when Guétary's character ,who does not speak English at all, is led up the garden path by his colleague.
Adémaï bandit d'honneur (1943)
"Adhemai" is pleasant spoof on the Corsican Vendetta ;Noel-Noel is not unlike Bourvil:he plays the naive peasant who's never got a clue what's happening around him.
Ademai is very happy to spend a vacation month in Corsica,invited by his family ;when he arrives,much to his surprise,all the male relatives have just been shot :only Angelico,a very old man,survives .So what is he expected to do about it? Revenge ,on this paradisaic island, is a dish best eaten hot,and it's his turn.Fortunately,his "ennemy" is none other than a friend from his army days;and the police sergeant is none other than their former warrant officer.To make the matters worse,the two pals are in love with Ademai's cousin Fortunata.
This is Gilles Grangier's first effort;this director was despised by the highbrows,but his thrillers from the fifties need reassessment.
Escapist cinema,at a time the French were not smiling.
La nuit merveilleuse (1940)
When a child is born: December 24th,1940.
Jean¨-Paulin broached many genres : militarist works (Trois De saint-Cyr),adventures tingled with eroticism ("L'Esclave Blanc" in which a native appeared topless in 1936,historical tale ("Echec Au Roy" ) ,fantasy and horror ("L'Homme Qui Vendit Son Ame Au Diable").
During the fist days of the Occupation,Maréchal Pétain suggested a movie were made in aid of the Secours national; as the cast and credits read,they all heed the call:"the greatest actors of the French cinema are here":actually only a handful of these actors (Vanel,Fernandel,Madeleine Robinson,Charpin....) are still remembered today;none of them received any fee.
This is a re-telling of the story of the nativity ,set in Provences ,in the present time -in their last conversation,Vanel and Fernandel hint at the hard times to come :"we need to use our good side,our finer feelings,we need to all stand together" .
A couple of refugees arrives in a village:he is a cabinet maker ,she's pregnant and the innkeeper refuses to give them a room;they wind up in the cowshed of a farm where she has her baby ,the very night of Christmas ,complete with canticles and even three travelers who play the Magi .
Although this is not a movie some French people do not remember proudly,it retains a pristine charm even today.
Probably inspired by Alphonse Daudet's short stories,the screenwriters intersperses their story with Provençal Legends (those of the blacksmith and of the donkey fit well in the plot);the depiction of the Provençal evening gathering,with its log and its Fougasse (sort of brioche)does not lack the human touch.
"Cinema De Vichy" ,that's for sure,but if you are interested in the past of the French cinema,you should watch it.
NB : although it was postponed till December 1948 in Paris ,its premiere did take place in Vichy in December 1940 ,the 24th.
La petite chocolatière (1932)
This chocolate mousse is not a gourmet dish.
In the early thirties,many French movies were filmed plays ;such is the case with "La Petite Chocolatière" .
It has not worn well;the main female character ,a spoiled rich girl,is almost unbearable and her reluctant suitor the young civil servant is not much better: Pierre Bertin 's acting is wooden.The only reason to Watch these light-hearted gallantries is Raimu ,but it's not one of his best parts,by a long shot;also interesting is the presence ,in a supporting role,of Simone Simon,the future star of Renoir's "La Bete Humaine" and of Jacques Tourneur's "cat people".
One can save a funny scene :the father of the Young man's first fiancée,coming into the boy's country house and discovering two girls ,quickly says to his daughter:" do not enter this place,dearest,there's a lovely landscape outside".
Remade in 1949,by André Berthomieu.
Mission à Tanger (1949)
Germans do not drink whiskey
A short historical comment tells us ,that before the Operation Torch in November 1942 ,many persons sacrificed their life....
Secret agents are given a dangerous mission in Tanger: to pass on important documents to London.Two men have already been killed .
The last victim was Georges Masse's friend;Georges is a bon vivant,a journalist fond of whiskey and women ,and not at all concerned about his native country's plight and about the allies' fight;but overnight the loss of his friend makes him change his mind,although he remains laid-back and offhand .
The movie flirts with pastiche but never fully gives in to it;Raymond Rouleau is well cast as a heart-breaker ,some kind of forerunner of James Bond (Sean Connery's Bond ,of course!),with plenty of go and humor.The lines written by Audiard often turns the screenplay to comedy ,but not entirely:it was 1949,and a movie involving resistant fighters had to be (at least partly) serious.
The first thirty minutes contain lots of filler :cabaret songs ("Je Suis Seule Ce Soir"),interminable dancing and even tap-dancing .But Louis De Funès's appearance ,as a Spanish general,makes up for it.
As for the director,André Hunebelle ,it was some kind of blueprint for his spy thrillers of the sixties featuring French James Bond OSS 117;
....But my hand was made strong by the hand of the Allmighty
In Leo Joannon's filmography,"L'Emigrante " set a pattern for his movies "of redemption" of the fifties,the likes of "Le Défroqué" ,"Le Désert De Pigalle" or "Le Secret De Sur Angèle ":life of sin, and before death strikes ,back on the straight and narrow and presto!the sinner becomes a saint.
For an actress such as Edwige Feuillère ,it's a far cry from Max Ophuls !She portrays a woman who loves jewels and is a gangster's lover.When he takes her precious necklace ,she gives him away to the police .
Fearing his vengeance,she sails away to South Africa ,where many emigrants intend to work in the mines there.
A lot of scenes are so extravagant they make the movie,like the works I mention above ,quite entertaining: -the heroine ,seducing men ,first a poor unlucky human wreck (Pierre Larquey,an excellent actor who overplays in all his scenes ) ,then a handsome lieutenant(Jean Chevrier) on the boat who is demoted when the captain discovers she shares his cabin.
-the dormitories the emigrants pack into,their good camaraderie,in direct contrast with the luxury dining-room where the heroine eats her lunch alone (yes ,it's "titanic" in miniature,without a wreck) -the wicked disabled Asiatic girl (isn't it a racist touch?),who informs the captain.
-the emigrants' rebellion,when they learn they are not the welcome in their new country and that they have to get back where they once belong.
-the heroine realizing that the handsome sailor sacrificed his career for her sake,and that she threw it all away ,that is to say the true love of a good man.
-her grand gesture ,her sacrifice,her salvation:"I'll will be with you all along your life till we meet again (in Heaven)"