L´homme du jour (Julien Duvivier, France, 1937)

 

L´homme du jour has so many delightful moments, many that revolve around Maurice Chevalier singing :Il-y-a de la joie (above), Yop la Boum! Ma pomme, and Mon vieux Paris. In fact Chevalier has grown on me over the years. Except in his great Lubitsch films (The Smiling Lieutenant, One Hour With You, The Merry Widow), I used to find his mugging tiresome. But now his presence gives me a lift. Watching him is like hearing Ethel Merman: what they do is not subtle but it evokes joy. No one evoked preening, smug masculinity like Chevalier until Burt Reynolds came along in the 70s, and both ironise it enough so that we know they´re both kidding it and embodying it simultaneously.

 

Moreover, unlike in his American films where he always invariably ended up as upper class, in L´homme du jour, Chevalier is the Chevalier born in Ménilmontant, a Parisian version of a cockney, man of the people, an electrician who wants to be a star, a man like the star himself. In the clip above, in a glorious art deco setting,, Duvivier shows us Chevalier trying to hide his dirty shoes, before integrating himself into the queer world of toffs, where floors open and tables rise, by getting them all involved in singing ´Ma pomme.´That they all do so with less talent, skilll and chic only enhances the natural nobility of the working man Chévalier.

But  L´homme du jour is Duvivier as well as Chevalier and there are other pleasures: the satire on celebrity culture, the kidding of the highbrow, the sympathy with the queers and whores that people his films; the conceptual and technical flair of the mise-en-scène. This has a great moment where Chevalier as Alfred Boulard, an electrician who dreams of becoming a star, goes backstage to see his girlfriend in a show Maurice Chevalier is starring in, and we get to see Chevalier as himself teaching Chevalier as Alfred Boulard how a song should be done. I´d say such as ironic self-awareness  postmodernism before the fact if it weren´t also evident in so many other works of this period. You can see the excerpt below:

 

 

A French musical, clearly influenced by the backstage musicals of the period, and much more visually and conceptually sophisticated than most of them.

As an interesting aside, Sheldon Hall has pointed out to me that ´L’HOMME DU JOUR was one of the 14 feature films shown on BBC Television before the war (on 12 and 13 Sept 1938)´. The UK title was Man of the Moment.

José Arroyo

 

 

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