Tag Archives: Daniel Gelin

Martin Roumagnac (George Lacombe, 1946)

 

 

 

 

Friends have been grumbling about this year´s programme at Ritrovatto. Did Musidora warrant so much attention? Did Henry King? Personally, I didn´t have any problem with any of that but I do have questions. The two images that represented the festival this year were those of Musidora, which was on the tote bags, and the image you can see above of Dietrich and Gabin which is the cover shot of this year´s programme. It´s a very striking image, beautifully designed, with the blue of Dietrich´s eyes overlaid onto the black and white image, along with the red of the rose which was made to match the lettering of ‘Il Cinema Ritrovatto (see pictures above).

Why an image of Gabin should represent the festival is understandable. Gabin is arguably the greatest French film star in history with more great films to his name than almost anybody. There was an interesting mini-retrospective of fascinating but lesser known Gabin films curated by Edouard Waintrop titled ‘Jean Gabin, the Man with Blue Eyes’: Coeur de Lilas (Anatole Litvak, 19319, De Haut en bas/ High and Low (G.W. Pabst, 1933), Pépé le Moko (Julien Duvivier, 1936), Au-delà des grilles – Le Mura di Malapaga (René Clement, 1948), La Marie du port (Marcel Carné, 1949), Le Plaisir (Max Ophuls, 1951), Maigret tend un piège (Jean Delannoy, 1957), En Cas de malheur (Claude-Autant-Laura, 1957), Le Chat (Pierre Granier-Deferre, 1970), plus a documentary on the life and career of the star: Un Français nommé Gabin (Yves Jeuland, 2017)

But why put Dietrich in the picture? She was only represented by one film in the festival, Destry Rides Again, George Marshall, 1939).  Did the programmers not think Gabin´s  image alone was enough of an attraction? Also since the retrospective is ´The Man With the Blue Eyes,´ why highlight hers?

The choice seems to be purely aesthetic. And there´s nothing wrong with that. It´s a great image. And the designer has done a wonderful job of turning it into a magnificent poster for this year´s Ritrovato. However, if you are going to choose that image, why not programme the film it´s from. As you can see above, the central image is also that of one of the posters for Gabin´s only on-screen pairing with Dietrich, Martin Roumagnac.

Jean-Jacques Jelot-Blanc´s in his biography of Gabin, Jean Gabin Inconnu (Flammarion, 2014) calls Martin Roumagnac, le plus gros échec de la carrière de Gabin/ the worst failure of Gabin´s career (loc 2457 Kindle edition), which I suppose is a reason not to screen the film. But in that case why not choose another image of Gabin, and highlight his blue-eyes?

And Martin Roumagnac being the worst failure of Gabin´s career is as much a reason to include the film in the retrospective as not. The film tries to adapt both Dietrich´s and Gabin´s personas to a post-war world. He´s still a man of the people, Martin Roumagnac is a builder, something of an entrepreneur and integral part of the community he lives in. Dietrich is Blanche Ferrand, only in town for a few years but long enough to have had affairs with the mayor, inspired devotion in the schoolteacher (a very young Daniel Gélin), and cast her eye over a consul whilst being entirely devoted to Gabin, i.e. vintage Dietrich.

 

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The film has some wonderful scenes. Dietrich´s star entrance, which you can see below: the first sight is her legs coming down the stairs, then her voice, then the dialogue ‘vous desiré monsieur´? And you can see from Gélin´s look that he definitely desires and what he desires is her.

 

 

Maria Riva in her biography of her mother writes that part of the problem with the film is the incongruity of Marlene as a provincial French adventurous. But  it´s no more incongruous than Dietrich as a provincial Spanish adventuress in The Devil is a Woman. And indeed the film gives Dietrich enough of a backstory, a woman of education and breeding descended through circumstances to the depths of Montmartre and Montparnasse but speaking several languages, unlike Gabin, knowing exactly how to behave at table and on the dance-floors of the chicest Parisian nightclubs, and wearing an eye-watering array of Jean Dessez couture with aplomb. She´s in the provinces not of them.

 

 

The film´s score almost ruins many scenes. It´s too loud, almost intransigent, and often mickey mousing scenes to Godzilla levels. But even that doesn´t ruin the great moment above: ´What did you say?’ Dietrich asks undressing. ‘Nothing. I wanted….’ says Gabin as he looks her over. ‘What did you want’ she says as she unbuttons her blouse.

 

 

Marlene met Gabin during his sojourn in Hollywood during the occupation and was so in love with him, that when he joined the forces, she followed him, first to North Africa, then to Paris immediately after the Liberation. Jacques Prévert and Marcel Carné had worked on the script initially but Dietrich demanded so many changes they bowed out and Georges Lacombe took over. It´s a pity. The film is overly symbolic in the ways of seriously bad drama. Here Dietrich sells birds, imprisoned in the shop front window or in cages, some of them, like Martin Roumagnac and Blanche Ferrand, need to be together as they can´t survive apart. But better to set the birds free as Blanche does later in the film knowing that they will die rather than to keep them in cages. At least they will die free. The film is full of such heavy handed quasi literary symbolising.

And yet it has great moments such as the scene above: ´Each day I don´t see you I´m lost´’ Roumagnac tells Blanche. ‘You are so much better than all the others’ she tells him. ‘I love you, I love you, I love you’. Gabin as Roumagnac says it three times. I wonder if those were lines each insisted on in the script? They certainly feed the legend of each, together and apart.

So the worst disaster of Gabin´s career, definitely not a good film, but an interesting post-war noir, enticingly fatalistic, with great use of the personas of Dietrich and Gabin and with a wonderful death scene for the latter where, like Bette Davis in The Letter he tacitly consents to be killed, we see him waiting for death, and then the death itself becomes a dramatic set-piece, richly visualised. There are many reasons why Martin Roumagnac deserved a place in the program. And really, if you don´t want to program it, why not choose another image to brand the festival? It would make it seem a little less like false advertising.

José Arroyo

Too Much Doris? On a moment of ‘excess’ in The Man Who Knew Too Much

 

There’s a lot of lore written about Doris Day, her presence and her performance in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. In Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, Patrick McGilligan writes that, ‘According to songwriter Jay Livingston, who wrote the theme song for The Man Who Knew Too Much, Day wouldn’t have appeared in the remake if not for the pressure from MCA, which represented Hitchcock and the actress. “His agent, MCA, said he couldn’t have [James] Stewart unless he took Doris Day,’ recalled Livingston. ” He told us he didn’t want Doris Day but he had to take her. He was very happy with her later’ (p. 517).

 

Indeed he was, and with reason: Doris gives a great performance in the film. She’s particularly wonderful in the scenes where she’s most hysterical, suppressing and on the verge of failing to contain emotion, the ones that demand most of her as an actress: when Stewart sedates her in Marrakesh, the Albert Hall scene, the scene where she sings Que sera sera again at the embassy knowing her son is upstairs. It’s a Doris Day audiences had barely had a glimpse of to then, though Hitchcock himself saw something of this in Day’s performance in Storm Warning, a KKK drama where she’d co-starred opposite Ginger Rogers and Ronald Reagan.

 

What caught my eye in the scene above is the tension between narrative and spectacle, between Doris Day as a singer/performer and as an actress, between what I take to be Hitchcock’s awareness of pleasing the audience, of film as a commercial enterprise, and his attempts at depth, of film as art. When I first saw this scene I thought Day was not good, that she was too much, that she was exceeding the bounds of her character in order to entertain the audience.

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A crescent moon over the minarets of Marrakesh

Hitchcock does odd and interesting things in this scene. The scene is prefaced by an image of a Crescent moon over over the minarets of Marrakesh, evoking strangeness, exoticism, a dash of danger. The film then dissolves into an image of Benjamin McKenna (James Stewart) looking in the mirror and dressing for dinner whilst Louis Bernard (Daniel Gélin), the man Jo (Doris Day) is so suspicious of, smokes by the balcony. We hear Jo beginning to sing ‘Que Sera Sera’ on the soundtrack. The camera then kind of creeps into the room, evoking a sense of portent. Then just as the camera crosses the threshold, it pans onto a mid-shot of Jo, also dressing for dinner and as the image of Doris Day appears, the son joins her in her singing. It’s a domestic scene but with an undertow of, not quite danger, more like potential disturbance. Everything is not quite right, and it’s not just because Louis Bernard is there.

On the word mother, as the boy sings, ‘I asked my mother, what will I be?’ Jo glances at Ben, who looks back, knowingly and lovingly before saying, ‘he’ll make a fine doctor’. Jo was a star of song and stage. Does she regret giving it up? Has it been an issue? Again, the choices in the mise-en-scène present but also raise questions doing so. And yet the focus remains on the boy and his future, particularly pertinent to the tension that is yet to reach its peak in the film but of which the mise-en-scène already makes us feel.

The next shot picks up on Jo, where the cut-reverse-cut with her husband started. She admires herself in the mirror, likes what she sees. As she enters the boy’s room to put him to bed, she swings her hips as if she’s on stage, and when she sings ‘Que Sera, Sera’ she sings ‘out’ as if to an audience, rather than to her son. Doris was never quite a belter. She’s one of the Twentieth Century’s great vocalists, a nuanced singer, with exquisite phrasing, and a tone that could seem hushed, caressing. She’s a singer who learned her trade on radio. But she’s singing ‘out’, as if to us in the audience rather than to her her child in the story, and she does this throughout the rest of the scene. She gives big broad smiles, make big broad gestures, sings the song as if she were in front of a band. It’s true that there are two men in the other room and that perhaps she’s singing to them as well as to her son. Certainly, Hitchcock always makes a point of returning to the child and the story. But the gestures are as broad as the singing. Doris is ostensibly putting her child to bed but she’s acting, and she’s being filmed, as if she’s performing at the Albert Hall. It’s a scene that feels disjunctive, where the spectacle of Doris Day singing seem to exceed the narrative of Jo putting her son to bed.

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One of the beautiful aspects of Hitchcock’s filmmaking is how this will all make sense the next time Jo sings ‘Que Sera Sera’, when in fact she is ostensibly singing to an audience but really singing to her son, almost the obverse of the scene here.

Moments of ‘excess’ in Hitchock rarely are; here what may be initially observed as a moment of spectacle becomes the conveyor of a particular kind of feeling and meaning as well as the basis of later narrative cohesion, what’s planted at the beginning is brought marvellously to harvest at the end, including the guest in the room and the significance of the knock on the door that ends this little scene. It’s very beautifully done. And Doris is a joy to behold.

 

José Arroyo