Tuesday, July 02, 2013

While Paris Sleeps (restored by Twentieth Century Fox and MoMA)

US © 1932 Fox Film Corporation. D: Allan Dwan. SC: Basil Woon. DP: Glen McWilliams. ED: Jack Murray, Paul Weatherwax. AD: William Darling. C: Victor McLaglen (Jacques Costaud), Helen Mack (Manon Costaud), William Bakewell (Paul Renoir), Jack La Rue (Julot), Rita La Roy (Fifi), Maurice Black (Roca), Lucille La Verne (Madame Golden Bonnet), Paul Porcasi (Kapas). P: Fox Film Corporation. Premiere: 8 maggio 1932. From: Twentieth Century Fox. 35 mm. 62'. B&w. Cinema Jolly, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, e-subtitles in Italian, 2 July 2013

Restored by Twentieth Century Fox in collaboration with MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art.

Jacques Lourcelles: "A convict, once a hero of World War I, escapes and flees to Paris to find his daughter, who believes him dead. He doesn't have the courage to reveal his true identity and pretends to be a friend of her father. In the short time they spend together he comes to encourage her in a love story that blossoms between her and a young accordionist. But most notably he helps her escape from the clutches of a band of pimps and con-men, sacrificing his own life in the process. From his earliest sound films, Dwan completely masters this new mode of expression, using dialogue sparingly and wisely, in a succession of short sequences that are both effective and poetic. The dialogue never slows, nor weighs down the action. The story, structured with consummate skill, manages to be tight, dense and agile at the same time, allowing the actors to express all the nuances and unspoken complexities of their characters. The cinematography, often rather gloomy, nonetheless conveys a wide range of shades entirely unlike the picturesque quality of French ‘atmosphere films'. There's something of Victor Hugo in the story: the quality of intrigue (recalling certain aspects of Les Miserables), but also the balance between power and sweetness in the depiction of the characters. Dwan demonstrates, as always, a particular sensitivity to the individuals with something tragic or pitiable in their destiny. The movie is also the first sound film by Dwan that blended elegy and tragedy, an approach that would be reprised twenty years later in the last works of the great director." Jacques Lourcelles, Dictionnaire du cinéma. Les films, Robert Laffont, Paris 1992

Jacques Costaud (Victor McLaglen), a fugitive from Devil's Island, returns to the underworld of Paris to save his daughter Manon from a white slave ring. Manon had grown up in the belief that her father, a war hero decorated with a Croix de Guerre, fell in Verdun 15 years ago as an unknown soldier.

Jacques Lourcelles refers in his notes above to the French "atmosphere films" of the 1930s, and it is interesting to compare this with them. In the Peter Bogdanovich book Allan Dwan tells that "I saw a lot of France before I made the picture. And out-of-the-way places too". It is an original pre-film-noir and a pre-Code movie. In the cellar of the bar called Casque d'Or (!) there is a giant baking oven in which police informers and other unwelcome guests are disposed of.

The conclusion is in Hollywood style, not in the fatalistic 1930s French style. The happiness of the young lovers seems thwarted and Jacques Costaud seems to be on his way back to Devil's Island. But in the spectacular action finale Costaud escapes one more time, finds his way to the cellar, throws an oil barrel into the oven and blows the entire Casque d'Or up.

A print of a fine restoration by Fox and MoMA.

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