by Mark Steiner
Several years ago, an anonymous donor contacted Scarecrow and asked if we could use funding for specific rental items that might be too costly for Scarecrow’s budget. Out of that came the first iteration of our Wish List Collection, and accordingly, a bunch of upgraded titles previously only on DVD, as well as some higher priced, English-friendly blu-rays and DVDs imported from France. Then, this year, a different anonymous donor came forward and asked the same question, and again, we were able to bring in another generous helping of French imports to add to our collection. Over the next few weeks we’ll be introducing these to you via our blog and newsletter. You can read the previous installment of this series here.
Les Inconnus dans la Maison/Strangers in the House (Henri Decoin, 1942)
Henri Georges-Clouzot adapted George Simenon’s whodunit for the German-controlled studio Continental Films shortly after the Nazi Occupation, and it feels like he and director Decoin were certainly aware of the oppressive atmosphere in France at the time. The film opens in the middle of a storm as the narrator reminds us how hard the rain is falling, taking us through the drenched streets of the provincial town of Saint Marc. Eventually, we find our way into the home and sometimes boarding house of the formerly great attorney at law, Hector Loursat, who has spent the last 18 years drinking to forget the wife who left him. When a murder is committed in the house, Loursat is takes up the case of the accused and has to battle back to his old form in an effort to save himself and his defendant. In the course of his investigation, and during the film’s magnificent set piece, a thrilling courtroom scene near the end, he also strips off the provincial town’s veneer of bourgeois hypocrisy. At the center of it all, playing a role of the lawyer that both James Mason and Jean-Paul Belmondo would play in remakes, is the actor who Alec Guinness and Orson Welles held up as the greatest actor of all time – Raimu.
Le Silence est d’or/Man About Town (René Clair, 1947)
After spending the war years in exile, Clair returned to his home country to make a brilliant, charming, and at times brutal romantic comedy set in 1906 during the early days of filmmaking in France. Using Moliere’s L’école des femmes as inspiration, Clair weaves an enchanting tale of a love triangle between an aging lothario, an idealistic young soldier, and a winsome mademoiselle who we watch become wiser and braver as the tale unfolds. Maurice Chevalier fits like a glove into the part of the aging lothario – a part that would have been played by Raimu if not for his unexpected death a year earlier. The script is brilliant. There’s a really touching scene where we watch our two young lovers fall in love as they muse on how unlucky us Americans are that we don’t have the words “tu” and “vous” in our language, thus impeding the subtleties of courtship, and there are several instances of echoing dialogue (and musical performances) that pack a wallop. The scenes in the studio are also fantastic, as we see Clair paying homage to the creators that came before him and constantly messing around with our own perceptions of reality as well. Why this never got wide US distribution or isn’t talked about as lovingly as some of Clair’s more well-known work is beyond me, but now, thanks to our anonymous donor and the magnificent restoration team at Pathe, Scarecrow customers can enjoy this charming ode to the early days of cinema.
(Blu-ray & DVD)
Paradis Perdu/Four Flights To Love (Abel Gance, 1940)
In the spring of 1940, shortly before the Fall Of France, director Gance, who had previously taken on the subject of war directly in his silent masterpieces J’Accuse and Napoleon, made this unusual melodrama about a man that loses nearly everything back home while away fighting in World War I, and the long process in which he reconciles this after returning from war, while trying to remain faithful to his once-youthful ideals. Lead actor Fernand Gravey, who returned to France from a brief sojourn in Hollywood shortly after the Nazi occupation began and fought with the resistance while simultaneously maintaining a career in the French film industry, is terrific as the flawed war hero, and the striking camerawork by Christian Matras, who also shot Lola Montes, The Earrings Of Madame De… and La Grande Illusion, looks absolutely gorgeous in this recent 2K restoration by Pathe.
(Blu-ray & DVD)
Want to join us in growing the Scarecrow archive? Your tax-deductible contribution to The Wishlist Collection will directly fund those items just outside of our budget. Make a gift today and help us offer more titles no algorithm will ever serve.