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  Drole de Drame Geddit?
Year: 1937
Director: Marcel Carné
Stars: Louis Jouvet, Françoise Rosay, Michel Simon, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Jean-Louis Barrault, Nadine Vogel, Pierre Alcover, Henri Guisol, Agnès Capri, René Génin, Ky Duyen, Marcel Duhamel, Jane Loury, Madeleine Suffel, Jenny Burnay, Claudye Carter, Jean Marais
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: In this church hall in London there is a meeting being held by a clergyman, Archibald Soper (Louis Jouvet), who has identified a dreadful new menace in the modern world: crime fiction. These books, he avers, do nothing but lead their readers astray with their lurid tales of wrongdoing and supposed excitements based around the criminal classes, and he is here to tell the assembled listeners, all ten of them, that something must be done. As he harangues the audience, his cousin Irwin Molyneux (Michel Simon) appears, a slow-thinking botanist to all appearances, but actually the author of the type of novel Soper is outraged about...

If you knew Marcel Carné at all, it would be for his classic doomed romance Les Enfants du Paradis, famously filmed in harrowing circumstances as the Nazis occupied Paris during World War Two. And if you knew that, you would doubtless know his other works from the thirties which went some way to establishing the basics of film noir in the next decade, but Drole de Dame was a different kettle of fish entirely. As if he were a great tragedian wishing to prove himself equally adept at getting the laughs from the audience as he was the tears, this little item demonstrated his would-be flair for comedy, not his accustomed forte.

It was essentially a farce at the expense of their neighbours across the Channel, sending up the petty class obsessions and the double standards of British society as Carné and his writer Jacques Prévert saw them (drawn from a novel of the day), but for most the reaction would not be "Ah! Bravo monsieurs! You have skewered an entire nation's mores and foibles!" but more "WTF?" as the plot wound its way around an escalating series of bizarre events (it's sometimes titled Bizarre, Bizarre for foreign audiences after an all too apt line of dialogue halfway through). One thing everyone agreed on was the cast were on excellent form, so if you were increasingly baffled you would still appreciate the skill.

And who knows, maybe laugh too? Although you had the impression of a willing bunch of actors working wonders with slightly below par material, when this was funny it was very funny, and when it was bizarre it was certainly strange in an almost alien fashion, whether that be from culture shock or the passing of the years, but few in Britain would recognise the fanciful version of their homeland in this, even allowing for the remove of a century or so. Presumably this had the French rolling in the aisles, but for example the milkman who makes deliveries sporting a top hat and furnishes the Molyneux household with hundreds of bottles which nobody seems to drink was less satire and more curious in its references to a line of humour difficult to fathom.

Or perhaps they were just being silly, this was supposed to make you chortle after all, so when Soper's crusade against pulp fiction goes off the rails, so do the lives of almost everyone else as Irwin, who frets lovingly over his momosas (which he has managed to get drunk somehow), finds himself at the centre of a real life murder plot when the population believe he has killed his wife Margaret (Françoise Rosay), who likes the idea of anonymity but necessitates the use of a false beard on Irwin so he can disguise himself, even though it's blatantly him beneath the whiskers. Just when you thought you were gaining a foothold in this, a vegetarian murderer who loves animals but thinks nothing of bumping off butchers who kill them for meat pops up and becomes the best friend Irwin has ever had, and so it goes on, like a vintage, Gallic Monty Python sketch as Soper ends up dressed as a Scotsman and passersby are coshed for their buttonholes to collect a flower arrangement. True, this is amusing, but quite what they were getting at resides with the filmmakers. Music by Maurice Jaubert.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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