Chapter 8 1936: Cured, and back to the cinema!
When Nino Frank was released from his sanatorium in summer 1936, "guéri comme un miraculé", it was natural for him to find it difficult to re-adjust to everyday life.
Finding work after three years away was never going to be easy; but sorting out his personal life was even more pressing. In his last months in the isolation of the Swiss mountains, he became bewitched by a healthy, bouncy Scottish girl visiting a fellow-inmate of the sanatorium. She in her turn fell in love with the romantic notion of the tubercular young writer, and – against all reason – he found himself engaged to her. But a cutting she sent to him from an English society paper showed her to be one of the Season's debutantes being presented to the King and Queen, and explained that her father was the owner of the most prestigious distillery in Scotland. Nino's dismay can best be described in his own words, taken from his memoirs:
So there it was. The worm in the fruit. It was no longer just love which I could see before me: to my horror, it was love flanked by money, and when I say money... |
Evidently they would be supported by her father's money, expected to live in the manner to which she was accustomed; and he would lose his independence, infinitely more precious than wealth. After weeks of procrastination, he plucked up the courage to find an acceptable excuse for breaking off his engagement. He received a gracious reply from the young lady and her family (who were probably equally relieved at this outcome):
I got out my best notepaper to write a long letter to Scotland. I received an indulgent reply, they had clearly guessed that something was wrong, they gave me back my freedom and we remained friends.
Then he added:
Oddly enough, from the day when I received this generous letter, regular work and money came to me in plenty... |
His main practical need had been to find work, after so long an absence. He moped about for most of the summer, starting a long-planned book on Garibaldi, which he tore up after fifty pages. He made abortive visits to Paris literary editors, who had no need of his services: after all, his speciality in France had been Italian culture and literature, and communication with Mussolini's Italy had almost entirely broken down.
In reality, he had never ceased to write freelance articles for Pour Vous, and there was no reason why he could not continue to do so. He could not survive on one article or review on average every two weeks, but his colleagues at the magazine were happy to offer him more regular assignments. What made the difference financially, though, was that he was also offered work – as before his illness – on the cinema page of the parent paper L'Intransigeant, where he would remain until its closure in 1940.
His last outside assignment for Pour Vous in 1933 had been a visit to the London studios of the British film industry, in October of that year. In August 1936, before he returned full-time, the magazine gave him the agreeable assignment of visiting the splendid new studios at Denham, just outside London. How different it was to visit London, not in the damp fog of October which had triggered the onset of his tuberculosis, but in glorious summer weather, in a leafy suburb with carefully-tended English gardens! On his first visit he had told his French readers of the beginnings of the internationalisation of British cinema, with the introduction of foreign directors and artists to stimulate the indigenous cinema, observing that:
English film has become an international product, easily exportable and of guaranteed quality...studios with full employment, cheerful optimism and great confidence in the future of English cinema. |
Now, in the huge new complex at Denham, he was fascinated to see how far the internationalism had advanced. The key producer-director was still Alexander Korda of London Films, but the German producer Erich Pommer was also filming there, with the actors Flora Robson and Raymond Massey. René Clair was shooting one film and preparing another, Georges Périnal was working as cinematographer for Korda. The directors Jacques Feyder and René Pujol were working there. The French actress Annabella was playing opposite Henry Fonda...and so on. Clearly film-making in Britain, and not only narrowly British cinema, continued to flourish, as he made a point of emphasising:
You don't only meet the English - and Germans, Hungarians, Russians - at Denham. You meet French film-makers too...It's truly 'Cinépolis'. And when you meet, at one turning or another, Erich Pommer or René Clair, you don't think only of Metropolis [Fritz Lang] - you also think of A nous la liberté [René Clair]... |
The attraction of having Frank on the team, to the editors and staff of Pour Vous, was that he brought a different mindset to cinema appreciation and criticism, from that of his committedly cinephile colleagues. His passion was literature - reading, writing and appraising it. His benchmark, for serious cinema, was that it should present humanity and human society with the honesty and perceptiveness found in great literature. (This did not preclude enjoyment of comic or fantastical writing or films.) His interests lay in meeting film directors and probing to discover their aims; in writing amusing reviews with a serious core, often couched as 'scénarios romancés'; and whenever the opportunity presented itself, in pressing for cinema – and especially French cinema – to live up to its undoubted potential as a mirror to society. This last aim was furthered by his dual rôle at Pour Vous and L'Intransigeant, which enabled him to raise a general issue in one paper and illustrate it in the other, with examples from specific films; or indeed to open up a topic which his colleagues could then take further.
A Night at the Opera: 'scénario romancé'
Before Frank returned formally to Pour Vous in August 1936, he contributed to the magazine's regular feature of the 'scénario romancé', a full-page summary of the plot of a new film. This feature was sometimes at risk of becoming just another journalistic chore for a staff writer. But for Frank, with his storyteller's imagination, it was a chance to create an actual short story, amusing or moving, whether or not he admired the film.
He saw that a novel way to tell the story would be to narrate it from the viewpoint of a minor character, or even one invented for the purpose, building up the feeling of the film rather than merely its plot-line. The first piece he wrote in this way, on A Night at the Opera, illustrates how the method worked, in this case with a plot too nonsensical to describe seriously, and is quoted in some detail below.
The narrator is a journalist coming to interview the Marx Brothers, who is conned out of his money and possessions by them – one of their signature gags – in an attempt to obtain information which would explain the story of the film:
(Groucho) I demand 8 dollars 50 cents, that's my final offer, to tell you what happened in cabin 58, my cabin – payable in advance.
[The journalist has no choice but to comply: he counts out 8 dollars 50 cents. Groucho gives him back the 50 cents.]
– Here, this is for you. Get yourself a patchouli oil rub.
– And the story of cabin 58, Mr. Driftwood?
– Impossible to describe. I'll get annoyed if you insist.
[Groucho disappears, leaving the journalist at the mercy of Chico.]
(Chico) The first thing to do is to sign a contract, then you give me your fountain-pen and your shirt, as payment for my revelations. You'll admit I can't ask for less.
[But once he has these...]
– It's a secret. Go and see it at the cinema. That's all I can tell you.
– And the rest?
– What rest?
– Why, the rest of your story: the famous night at the Opera?
– All that for a wretched pen and a flannel shirt? Not likely!
[The poor journalist ends up almost naked in the street, and is arrested by the police.] |
Thus the reader, having effectively learnt only that the film is very funny, is on tenterhooks to see it.
Frank would continue to specialise in these pieces, varying the approach with each one: thus, for the comedy The Ex-Mrs. Bradford, the narrator was the despairing butler; for My Man Godfrey a telephone call by the distracted mother of the errant heroine; for Fury, the plea put forward by the defence counsel; for the Thin Man series, the story as told by Asta, the dog. In L'Intransigeant, there were reminiscences by Mickey Mouse, on his eighth birthday. These conceits would culminate in the 'scénario romancé' of Marcel Carné's film, Quai des Brumes, to which we shall return in the next chapter.
More serious matters
In addition to the lighthearted 'scénarios', from the end of August 1936 Nino returned to film reviews, interviews and serious articles. He quickly showed himself even less willing to suffer poor film-making gladly, than he had been before his illness, and although he was anxious to promote French films whenever possible, he would do so only where he perceived them to meet his fundamental criterion: to ring true. Thus, on 27th August, he wrote dismissively of a French version of Private Lives [Les Amants terribles]:
It's hard to understand why they wanted to bring Noël Coward's play to the screen. In the theatre, perhaps, this insignificant story can be diverting for easily-pleased spectators; but in the cinema...They had already made a film in America. As if that wasn't enough, they wanted to make a new version in France. |
In his opinion the director, Marc Allegret – one of the most promising young directors of the time – had not been able, try as he might, to lift the flatness of the material, or to make it either interesting or funny:
I admire Marc Allegret's good intentions. He has done all that was humanly possible to prevent his film being a total void...You know perhaps that Les Amants terribles describes the agreements and disagreements of two couples. This squabbling among four people is a story for naive young girls...But sacred tradition demands our indulgence in the summer season: so perhaps not only adolescent girls, but also other spectators, lulled by the heat, may find something to their taste in this tale. |
The following week, he also wrote the 'scénario romancé' of this film, as a conversation between the couple whose new partners have deserted them and gone off together, in spite of having just divorced each other. The humourless banality of their conversation expressed perfectly Coward's view of the emptiness of the lives of all four characters, but also the impossibility of translating his theatrical wit to film, especially in translation:
You've been dropped like a hot potato. It's true you were the model of a silly goose – a man like Daniel couldn't do anything but dump you. I would add, to your credit, that you've certainly changed: two days of misfortune have been enough to change you completely, and for you to become, like all women, an insane egoist. |
Later in the autumn, he was merciless in his review of a sentimental French 'B' film, La Joueuse d'orgue, epitome of the superficiality of (in his opinion) too many French films:
Since my earliest childhood, I have been told, endlessly, that I had no heart. I have just discovered this once again: in the presence of one of these melodramas which make Margot weep, my eyes have remained obstinately dry...a poor woman loses her sight and recovers it again, a little girl sings on the streets, the criminals do not escape divine vengeance, the young girls end up marrying the man they love, etc. I tell you, I am a man without a heart. |
By contrast, his review of the English remake of Griffith's Broken Blossoms was appreciative and considered. As well as praising the director for his skill in making the more melodramatic elements of the story seem real, he mentioned particularly the heroine, played by Dolly Haas:
[She] has lived her part intensely, with incredible tact and sweetness. Some of her expressions are unforgettable, so that you don't think about the aspects of the situations which are gratuitous and extreme.
The London setting strikes a deep chord, and for him is the real star of the film: the London to which Pierre Mac Orlan was passionately drawn, the port of London where Nino himself had first become ill:
Broken Blossoms unfolds in Limehouse, the Chinese quarter of London, centre of a land of misery...All the settings in the Port of London, the fire in Chen's little shop, the scenes which create the atmosphere, are of an extraordinary, spectral vividness. It is the London which lives in the imagination of all those who love this unique city. |
Paris, famous film star
The film Broken Blossoms had been, to Nino's eyes, a deeply moving tale of the sufferings of many inhabitants of London's East End. He had visited the docks, albeit only very briefly, and felt that the film was true to the experiences of many who lived there. As a counterpoint, in the following months he saw two English films about Paris which he felt to be inaccurate and false, and did not hesitate to mock them. In Sleeping Car, the director Anatole Litvak (who knew Paris well)
apparently wished to make the film in a style appropriate to the country it was intended for: England. However, since the action unfolded in Paris – the Paris of an American operetta – he tried to give it a certain French accent, |
with less than satisfactory results, while the makers of Carlotta [English title The Morals of Marcus] had set their 'bal-musette' (cheap dance) in the Rue Saint-Didier, within the highly respectable 16th arrondissement. The heroine is found in
the hellish bal-musette of Rue Saint-Didier, where she is singing dressed as a Rumanian peasant. This film easily bears comparison with our worst French productions. Indeed, it beats them by a short head. |
These two films, and several press announcements about forthcoming French films, gave him the idea of a more general piece for his column in L'Intransigeant, which he called 'Le vrai et les faux Paris' [The real Paris and the false ones]. In this article he meditated on the star rôle of Paris not only in film, but also in literature, and the importance of depicting the city truthfully and with sincere affection and concern. This brief piece is important not only in its own right, but also because reviewers of the films which came out during the winter built upon the broader ideas Nino had opened up. Indeed, it can be seen as an early precursor to his famous 1946 article on "noir" films, where he started a train of thought which others seized on and developed further. The full article in the original French is included as an Appendix to this chapter, but its main points are also discussed below.
The point of departure is that Paris has a starring rôle in cinema: "At all hours of the day, the City is ready and willing to be filmed. She is always both new and old, deliciously alive." But the corollary to this is that it should be elements of the real Paris which are presented to the public, in France but especially abroad. And to define this real Paris and its mysteries he turns again, as he did for London in his Broken Blossoms review, to literature and specifically to Pierre Mac Orlan and his concept of the "fantastique social", in this article broadened to become the "pathétique social" which underlies the beating heart of the city:
This "pathétique social", for which Pierre Mac Orlan has made himself the poet, cannot be found in all its elements anywhere except Paris. The mysteries of Paris are far from being explained, and the eye of the camera will uncover them better than our own. René Clair should not be the only one to be magnificently inspired by the City. |
And to emphasise again the kinds of gross factual errors being made, he returns to the points in his earlier reviews:
In Carlotta, they show us a bal-musette which has been sited in the peaceful Rue Saint-Didier, apparently frequented by 'apaches' [dandified hooligans] and characters of a "1900 bohemian" type. In Sleeping Car, we saw a marriage ceremony at the town hall of the 14th arrondissement that you could only marvel at. |
He lists a number of French films currently in production, hoping that they will do justice to Paris, and that they will be shown abroad and correct some of the false impressions conveyed to foreigners by earlier films.
Four of these films arrived in the next few weeks – Aventure à Paris (director Marc Allegret), Ménilmontant (René Guissart), Jeunes Filles de Paris (Claude Vermorel) and Paris (Jean Choux) – and Nino's article formed the starting-point for discussion by other Pour Vous critics. As they found, his hopes had been only half realised: the images of Paris, the star, were inspiring – after all, these directors knew their Paris well – but all were let down by the banality of the subject-matter, which had not progressed beyond melodrama or sentimental comedy.
Thus, summarised very briefly: Aventure à Paris was about an unscrupulous seducer who falls for one of his victims, who then turns the tables on him. In Ménilmontant, honest street-vendors return a valuable jewel to its rich owner, who gives them a reward to spend on the poor children of the neighbourhood. They win through in spite of obstacles from corrupt local politicians. In Jeunes Filles de Paris, caricatures of Parisian types are thrown together with no real attempt at a plot. And in Paris, a medical student from a good family falls for a taxi-driver's daughter, and when the father has an accident, he helps him to recover and is then able to marry the daughter.
Reviewers were anxious to support French directors, but all that they could really praise were the décors, which did ring true: Thus, Serge Veber somewhat caustically found Aventure à Paris:
a film which is alert, lively and very Parisian. The spectator learns how to gamble in bars, going on to the game of love, of chance, of night-clubs and bachelor-pads. |
Ménilmontant was not up to the quality of Sous les Toits de Paris, but Lucien Wahl did grant that:
there is too much talk in this film, and not enough memorable images, but it rings fresh and true. |
For Roger Régent, in Jeunes Filles de Paris Claude Vermorel:
has succeeded in producing evocative scenes, tastefully composed, which in their stylised realism portray the true face of the capital...[but] is there any story? |
And Paris was so unbelievable that Veber, again the reviewer, expostulated:
M. Jean Choux, who conceived and directed this romantic tosh, can't possibly be expecting compliments, since we know we can hope for works of a very different quality from a man of his talent. |
On 11 February, 1937, René Lehmann, now the editor of Pour Vous, took it upon himself to comment on this whole sequence of films, picking up directly Frank's thesis about the representation of Paris on film. He paid French directors the compliment of recognising their wish to show the different sides of their beloved city, while also understanding the enormity of this task:
In French cinema we have always wanted to express the face and the soul of Paris. An ambitious aim, so tempting and so difficult! Paris is a whole world, it is a synthesis of the Universe. Paris does not have only one face and one soul. It has so many aspects born of its past, its glory, its traditions!
But the weakness in the films was that they were based on, and perhaps followed too closely, literary works of moderate quality. The effect was that even when the characters seemed real, their actions – derived from sentimental popular literature – did not:
You would try in vain to imagine Paris, if you knew it only by repute, on the basis of these films founded on good intentions but also, unfortunately, heavily influenced by literature of rather poor quality.
Nonetheless, he hailed the films as courageous attempts to portray the real Paris and its many different facets, so difficult to capture. He urged directors to continue to make more films about the city, but to venture in their plots further from the hackneyed popular novel:
The material is inexhaustible. Let us hope it will once again tempt cinema outside the too well-trodden paths of the "populism" of so-called popular novels, of sentimental or naive conventions. There is so much life in Paris, and lives which collide, merge, are unaware of or seek each other, against the marvellous background of the nonchalant, meandering grey Seine! |
Thus for regular readers, what might have seemed simply a number of unrelated reviews became the seriously involving topic of the appropriate ways of treating Paris and Parisians in films.
In fact, the wish of Lehmann and his colleagues was about to be granted. Although this 'popular' tendency in French cinema would continue, something altogether more exciting and serious was already developing, which critics would begin to see as a definite new direction. The next chapter deals with this important new development of the late 1930s, which would later come to be called 'poetic realism'.
Le vrai et les faux Paris
Nino Frank, L'Intransigeant, 17.10.36, p.8
Paris, de Jean Choux; Jeunes Filles de Paris, de Claude Vermorel; Aventure de Paris, de Marc Allegret, qui sont prêts; Ménilmontant, de René Guissart, et Enfants de Paris, de Gaston Roudès, qu'on tourne en ce moment; Palais-Royal et Les Amants de Paris, dont on annonce la réalisation, décidément, Paris est la grande vedette du cinéma français, en ce début de saison.
On s'étonne que les metteurs en scène aient tant tardé à s'intéresser activement, si je puis dire, à cette magnifique toile de fond qu'est Paris. Pas de tracas, pas de difficultés financières avec une pareille vedette. À chaque heure, la ville est prête à se laisser cinématographier avec complaisance. Elle est toujours neuve et vieille, savoureusement vivante. Ce pathétique social dont Pierre Mac Orlan s'est si souvent fait le poète, nulle part ailleurs qu'à Paris on n'en trouve si abondamment les éléments. Les mystères de Paris sont loin d'être élucidés, et l'œil du cinéma pourra les découvrir mieux que les nôtres. Il ne faut pas que René Clair demeure le seul à s'être laissé si magnifiquement inspirer par la Ville.
Ce Paris sera vrai, nous l'espérons. Peut-être quelques-uns de ces films iront-ils en Amérique, à Hollywood, pour être plus précis. Et peut-être les metteurs en scène américains se persuaderont-ils qu'il leur faut absolument reviser leur conception de Paris...
À la fin de Dortoir de Jeunes Filles, une image nous montre un pont parisien qui est pour le moins inattendu. Dans Carlotta, on nous décrit un bal-musette qu'on situe dans la paisible rue Saint-Didier et où fréquentent des apaches à accroche-cœurs et des individus du type "bohême 1900". Dans Sleeping-car, on voyait un mariage à la mairie du XIVe arrondissement qui laissait rêveur. Dans je ne sais plus quel film de terreur avec les Karloff et les Lugosi habituels, une extraordinaire reconstitution de l'église Saint-Roch jouait un rôle aussi particulier qu'extravagant. Et ainsi de suite.
All translations from European texts are my own.
1Nino Frank, 'Front populaire', Le Bruit parmi le vent (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1968), p.247.
3 Nino Frank, 'Le cinéma en Angleterre', Pour Vous, no.257, 19.10.33, p.10.
4Nino Frank, 'Promenade à Denham, Cinépolis anglais', Pour Vous, no.403, 6.8.36, p.ll.
5Nino Frank, 'Notre scénario romancé: Une Nuit à l'Opéra', Pour Vous, no.397, 25.6.36, p.14.
6Nino Frank, 'Les caprices de l'amour: Les Amants terribles', Pour Vous, no.406, 27.8.36, p.4.
8Nino Frank, 'Les Amants terribles, de Marc Allegret (d'après la pièce de Noël Coward)', Pour Vous, no.407, 3.9.36, p.14. This overall view tallies closely with the Halliwell Film and Video Guide's opinion of the 1931 Hollywood film: "An essentially theatrical comedy, and a great one, seems somewhat slow-witted on film." [In Coward's play, Daniel's name was Elyot.]
9Nino Frank, 'Un drame populaire: La Joueuse d'orgue', Pour Vous, no.418, 19.11.36, p.6. 'Margot' = little shop assistant. Slang usage, original quote is from Alfred de Musset:
"Et, que tous les pédants frappent leur tête creuse,
Vive le mélodrame où Margot a pleuré."
10Nino Frank, 'Un conte poignant: Le Lys brisé', Pour Vous, no.406, 27.8.36, p.5.
11Nino Frank, 'Le galant contrôleur: Sleeping-Car', Pour Vous, no.409, 17.9.36, p.10.
12Nino Frank, 'Un cocktail international: Carlotta', no.412, 8.10.36, p.6.
13Nino Frank, 'Le vrai et les faux Paris', L'Intransigeant, 17.10.36, p.8. The closest English noun to 'pathétique' is 'pathos', but its meaning is not quite the same. "Pathétique" is defined in Larousse as something "qui émeut fortement, dont l'intensité dramatique provoque un sentiment de tristesse grave". Frank applies it here to the lives of the poor and insignificant hidden below the glittering surface of Paris, about whom Mac Orlan was one of the first to write with true sympathy and fellow-feeling.
15Serge Veber, 'Un rabatteur amoral: Aventure à Paris', Pour Vous, no.420, 3.12.36, p.33.
16Lucien Wahl, 'Bienheureux les humbles: Ménilmontant', Pour Vous, no.428, 28.1.37, p.4.
17Roger Régent, 'Le grand et le petit Paris: Jeunes filles de Paris', Pour Vous, no.430, 11.2.37, p.14.
18Serge Veber, 'La petite couturière et l'étudiant: Paris', Pour Vous, no.427, 21.1.37, pp.4-5.
19René Lehmann, 'Vues de Paris', Pour Vous, no.430, 11.2.37, pp.8-9.
Original quotations from which translations taken (numbers match relevant endnotes)
1Et allez donc. Le ver dans le fruit. Il n'y avait plus, devant moi, que l'amour: à ma stupéfaction, il y avait l'amour flanqué de l'argent, et quand je dis l'argent...
2Je pris ma plus belle plume afin d'écrire une longue lettre en Écosse. On me répondit avec indulgence, on avait bien deviné que quelque chose clochait, on me rendait ma liberté et on restait amis.
Fait singulier, à partir du jour où je reçus cette lettre généreuse, des travaux suivis, et de l'argent, me vinrent en quantité...
3Le film anglais est devenu un produit international, aisément exportable et à coup sûr de qualité...des studios où on ne chôme pas, un optimisme allègre et une belle confiance dans l'aveniur du cinéma anglais.
4On ne rencontre pas que des Anglais - et des Allemands, des Hongrois, des Russes - à Denham. On y rencontre aussi des Français...C'est Cinépolis. Et comme on rencontre, au hasard d'un détour, Erich Pommer ou René Clair, on ne songe pas seulement à Métropolis, - on se souvient aussi de A nous la liberté...
5(Groucho) "Je demande huit dollars cinquante cents, dernier prix, pour vous raconter ce qui s'est passé dans la cabine 58, ma cabine. On paie d'avance."
[Le journaliste est bien obligé de s'exécuter: il compte huit dollars cinquante cents. Groucho lui tend les cinquante cents.]
"Tenez, c'est pour vous. Faites-vous faire une friction au patchouli.
– Et l'histoire de la cabine 58, Monsieur Driftwood?
– Elle est impossible à raconter. Vous me vexeriez en insistant."
[Groucho quitte la scène.]
(Chico) "La première chose à faire, c'est que nous signions un contrat, puis que vous me donniez en paiement de mes révélations votre stylo et votre chemise. Vous avouerez que je ne peux pas en demander moins."
[Esclave du devoir, le journaliste s'exécute.]
"C'est un secret. Allez le voir au cinéma. C'est tout ce que je peux vous en dire.
– Et la suite?
– Quelle suite?
– Eh bien, la suite de votre histoire: la fameuse nuit à l'Opéra?
– Tout ça pour un misérable stylo et une chemise de flanelle. Je ne marche pas."
6On ne comprend guère l'intérêt qu'il y avait à porter à l'écran la pièce de Noël Coward. Au théâtre, peut-être, grâce au brio du dialogue, cette histoire insignifiante peut divertir des spectateurs pas trop exigeants; mais au cinéma...On en avait déjà fait un film en Amérique. Comme si cela ne suffisait pas, on en a voulu faire une nouvelle version en France.
7J'admire la bonne volonté de Marc Allegret. Il a fait tout ce qui était humainement possible pour que son film ne soit pas tout à fait vide...On sait peut-être que Les Amants terribles nous décrivent les accords et désaccords de deux couples. Cette absence de pacte à quatre est une histoire pour jeunes filles...Les plus saintes traditions veulent qu'on soit indulgent l'été: c'est ainsi qu'outre les jeunes filles, d'autres spectateurs pourront prendre goût, la chaleur aidant, à cette histoire.
8On vous a laissé tomber comme une crêpe...Il est vrai que vous étiez le modèle des oies blanches – un homme comme Daniel ne pouvait faire autrement que vous laisser tomber. J'ajoute, à votre éloge, que vous avez bien changé: deux jours d'infortune vous ont suffi pour changer du tout au tout, pour devenir, comme toutes les femmes, une égoiste forcenée.
9Depuis ma plus tendre enfance, on m'a dit et répété que j'étais un sans cœur. Je viens de le constater une fois de plus: mis en présence d'un de ces mélodrames où Margot pleure, mes yeux sont demeurés obstinément secs...Une pauvre femme perd la vue et la recouvre, une petite fille chante dans les rues, les criminels ne parviennent pas à fuir la vengeance du ciel, les jeunes filles finissent par épouser l'homme qu'elles aiment, etc. Je vous le dis, je suis un sans cœur.
10[Dolly Haas] a vécu intensément son rôle, avec un tact et une douceur stupéfiantes. Certaines de ses expressions sont inoubliables et font qu'on ne se soucie guère de ce que les situations ont de voulu et d'outrancier.
...Le Lys brisé se déroule à Limehouse, le quartier chinois de Londres, qui se trouve en plein centre du pays de la misère...Et tous les décors du port de Londres, l'incendie de la boutique de Chen, les scènes d'atmosphère sont d'une extraordinaire, d'une fantomatique truculence. C'est le Londres qui est dans l'imagination de tous ceux qui aiment cette ville unique.
11Il a voulu lui donner, semble-t-il, le style qui convenait au pays auquel il était destiné: l'Angleterre. D'autre part, son sujet se déroulant à Paris, et dans un Paris d'opérette américaine, il a essayé d'y mettre un accent un peu français.
12L'infernal bal-musette de la rue Saint-Didier, où elle chante habillée en paysanne roumaine. Ce film soutient aisément la comparaison avec nos plus mauvais ouvrages français. Il les bat même d'une courte encolure.
13À chaque heure, la ville est prête à se laisser cinématographier avec complaisance. Elle est toujours neuve et vieille, savoureusement vivante.
Ce pathétique social dont Pierre Mac Orlan s'est si souvent fait le poète, nulle part ailleurs qu'à Paris on n'en trouve si abondamment les éléments. Les mystères de Paris sont loin d'être êlucidés, et l'œil du cinéma pourra les découvrir mieux que les nôtres. Il ne faut pas que René Clair demeure le seul à s'être laissé si magnifiquement inspirer par la Ville.
14Dans Carlotta, on nous décrit un bal-musette qu'on situe dans la paisible rue Saint-Didier et où fréquentent des apaches à accroche-cœurs et des individus du type "bohême 1900". Dans Sleeping Car, on voyait un mariage à la mairie du XIVe arrondissement qui laissait rêveur.
15un film alerte, gai et très parisien. Le spectateur apprend à jouer aux bars, puis au jeu de l'amour, du hasard, des boîtes de nuit et de la garçonnerie.
16c'est un film assez bavard et où l'on ne rencontre pas une trouvaille d'images, mais il sonne frais et juste.
17a réussi des tableaux évocateurs, composés avec goût et qui peignent avec un réalisme stylisé le vrai visage de la capitale...[mais] y a-t-il une histoire?
18M. Jean Choux, qui a conçu et réalisé cette bluette en prose, ne doit certes pas s'attendre à des compliments, car nous savons que l'on peut espérer de son talent des ouvrages d'une autre tenue.
19En France on a toujours eu le désir d'exprimer au cinéma l'âme et le visage de Paris. Désir ambitieux, combien tentant et combien difficile! Paris, c'est un monde, c'est une synthèse de l'Univers. Paris n'a pas qu'une âme et un visage. Il a tant d'aspects nés de son passé, de sa gloire, de ses traditions!
Il serait vain, je crois, d'imaginer Paris si on ne le connaît que de réputation, d'après ces films, qui sont pavés de bonnes intentions, mais farcis aussi d'une littérature de qualité assez faible, malheureusement. Il y a des qualités évidentes dans ces films, qui ont pour héros de petites gens, des ouvriers, des midinettes et des bourgeois, mais, si le trait est souvent juste, isolé de l'action, l'ensemble sonne faux.
La matière est inépuisable. Souhaitons qu'elle tente de nouveau l'activité cinématographique, en dehors des sentiers un peu battus du "populisme" des romans dits populaires, de la convention à l'eau de rose ou à l'eau de ruisseau. Il y a tant de vie à Paris, et de vies qui se heurtent, se confondent, s'ignorent, se cherchent dans le merveilleux décor que traverse, d'un coude nonchalant, la Seine grise!