Jean Renoir (director)
27 August 2018 (released)
10 September 2018
This lost gem from 1936 not only boasts an outstanding cast but sports left-wing political undertones. Part social commentary and part romance, it features René Lefèvre as a kind and mild-mannered publishing clerk whose ambitions to become a successful pulp novel author are compromised by his unreliable and salacious boss’ spiralling debts. Could murder be the solution?
The film begins with a young couple, Monsieur Lange (René Lefèvre) and bubbly blonde Valentine Cardès (Florelle), a former laundrette worker, on the run. A friend drives them to an old inn in the countryside, close to the Belgian border. As the two guests get ready for a night of rest one of the patrons recognises Lang as a wanted murderer and is about to turn him over to the police when Valentine interferes. In flashback, she tells the patrons how she and Lange came to be on the run and why he was forced to resort to murder…
The actual story starts to unfold and we learn that Monsieur Lange, a somewhat timid but kind-mannered young man, is in the employ of a publishing company owned by Paul Batala (Jules Berry), a lecherous and selfish man who had been borrowing a vast sum of money to give his publishing and printing business a much needed boost. As it transpires, Batala had frittered the loan away indulging in private luxuries rather then using it for business, in particular one company producing herbal salts and other remedies wanted to see their products advertised via Batala’s publishing house. Since nothing has been advertised they understandably want their money back though of course Batala can’t pay it back as he’s broke. Thinking of some excuses in order to extend the looming payback-deadline, Batala incorporates ads for the herbal remedies into Lange’s pulp western serial ‘Arizona Jim’ – much to Lange’s chagrin!
Meanwhile Valentine, the pretty owner of the local launderette, begins to fall for Lange in earnest though he seems more interested in writing his pulp westerns. Edith (Sylvia Bataille) is hopelessly in love with Batala who cheats on her at every opportunity – obviously blinded by love she stupidly agrees to keep helping him out with money. Estelle (Nadia Sibirskaia), a young laundress in the employ of Valentine, longs for Charles (Maurice Baquet), the son of the concierge but his parents are anything but happy about the prospect of a possible romance as they deem Estelle an ‘unsuitable’ choice for their son. One afternoon Batala seduces the naïve Estelle in his office with the promise of getting her into glamorous pictures. Shortly after Batala realises he simply cannot pay back his debts to his moneylenders and decides to do a runner by boarding a train. Some days later his friends and employees read in the newspaper of a terrible train crash which left several people dead, among them Batala though it has been mentioned that some passengers mysteriously had disappeared, including a priest.
Back in the publishing house, the news of Batala’s apparent death prompts his former employees to form a cooperative (as idealistic left-wingers often want to do) and thanks to Lange’s ‘Arizona Jim’ stories they soon have great success, even changing the front cover from illustrations to photo sequences in which they all pose as various characters from the stories! Lange and Valentine are finally in love and a happy couple, but things are less fortunate for Estelle whose fateful ‘office session’ with Batala has left her pregnant. Desperate and ashamed she plans on leaving town for good when unexpectedly Charles offers his support and love despite her condition. Just as everyone’s life seems happy and fulfilled, the bastard Batala returns from the dead in a priest’s outfit! He wasn’t killed in the train crash but a priest was and he decided to swap clothes and identities. Now he wants his publishing company back and threatens Lange… who finally loses his patience with his former boss and shoots him before he and Valentine flee.
After Valentine finishes her last sentence the patrons at the inn begin to understand as to why Lange shot Batala and no longer plan on handing him over to the Paris. Instead, they help the couple escape over the border to Belgium.
Ideologies connected to the then French Communist Party as well as the Radical and Socialist Party seep through the political messages in this captivating film, delivering the message that even underdogs can come up trumps given the right circumstances. The performances are top notch, the restoration looks good (mono sound is of course a little wonky) and the Bonus Material is equally interesting.