Ceux de Chez Nous
To begin, long before his book of France, an album of intimate friends who are Sarah Bernhardt (“my second mother”), Rodin, Monet (born on the same day), Rostand (“you couldn’t help liking him”), Renoir assisted by his son Jean, Saint-Saëns conducting an imaginary orchestra played by Cortot, with Guitry at his desk introducing each one (he presses a button) and telling sad or delightful stories in the later sound version.
“You think you don’t like Mirbeau, but it’s not so. It’s he who doesn’t like you.”
“Il est évident que personne n’a jamais était plus intelligent qu’Anatole France,” Monsieur France, Guitry calls him.
“French cinema,” writes Truffaut, “owes about a dozen good films to him, the best of which (among those I have managed to see) are: Ceux de Chez Nous...”
Le Nouveau Testament
A film of absolute perfection, the Paris avenue seen from a motorcar, the deceitful wife and her stratagems, the deceiver and his motive congruently realized by Guitry.
Lubitsch in Paris instantly sizes up the situation so, if Madame must have a young lover just like dear old Dad, Monsieur must fire his secretary for having no English (only German) and install a young one in her stead.
“I think you look like a whore.”
“We can’t all look like a madam.”
Truffaut points out, “in 1936, Sacha Guitry made four films. Think of it—four films in a single year. Luckily I know all four,” starting with this one.
The title means of course The New Will. Question among other things of a new name for the butler (“domestique!”), whose carpet sweeper is Le Lafayette, and of a mistress and a daughter, “mais laquelle”, profitons-en.
Hal Erickson (All Movie Guide) has it mixed up with Tartuffe, “the story concerns a sanctimonious fellow who eventually is victimized by his own hypocrisy.”
Le Roman d’un tricheur
It clarifies a few or many points, Welles’ introductions, for example. “Rightly considered to be Guitry’s masterpiece,” says Truffaut, who might have leaped into the studio from here, “a picaresque film, two-thirds commentary and full of unedited, or never re-edited, brainstorms.”
Clouzot’s artistic photographer in Quai des Orfèvres is assuredly seen at work here. What the pen writes at a sidewalk café (Guitry stops to converse with the waiter) the caméra-stylo records as fast, Monaco and Monte Carlo, for instance, and the events of this novel concerning a cheat.
The elevator scene excites Truffaut to exclaim, “Guitry is Lubitsch’s French brother,” the continuation speaks for itself, presumably, he does not mention it (he derides Becker’s Arsène Lupin for repeating the purloined jewel, from Lubitsch too).
La femme d’un etc. Guitry demonstrates, with a mirror to assist him, sleight of hand for the camera. The parade of disguises is lapped up by Huston for The List of Adrian Messenger. Sirk has A Scandal in Paris for the finale.
Frank S. Nugent, “a witty, impudent, morally subversive show which every one should see” (New York Times).
Time Out can’t get a word in, it complains.
Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader) is exasperated, too. “Brittle cleverness,” he finds.
TV Guide, “exciting, funny, innovative, and brilliant”.
Welles certainly remembers it in The Fountain of Youth for television.
Mon Père avait raison
A vaudeville of domestic life, shaved very closely to the nub of realism (one is very natural, one is not always so articulate).
Guitry keeping the books, to him his son “pour te dire bonjour”, his father on an errand... chitchat, repartee, a drawing room comedy in chairs, a minstrel show, a family grouping, what have you.
“Women were born to be married, men were born to be bachelors” (women when they’re young want to fool us, when they’re old they want to be fooled), says mon père. The title is given by him.
A rare film scored for string quartet.
Marcel Ophuls practically has a starting point here in continuous dialogue calmly inflicted on an offscreen interlocutor.
Long takes are thus a spécialité de la maison, and even rarer the rapid intercutting of two separate actions that occur at the same time as a stylistic point of grammar.
Women, women come and go.
Tennessee Williams might have his “powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity” from this.
Les Perles de la Couronne
The “déplorable manie” of the English to use a language one does not know.
The English Crown.
Half of the story to Mary Stuart, the rest introduced by Jean Françaix in the manner of Fellini.
Three thieves, three investigators.
“Jean Martin, homme de lettres français.”
“John Russell, equerry to His Majesty.”
“Giovanni Riboldi, cameriere del Papa.”
Writing a good deal later, Desson Howe (Washington Post) found this “alternately ingenious and insufferable.”
Françaix has many tricks up his sleeve, John Addison, for example.
Three pearls missing (seven in all), one in Spain, one faux, one “from whence it came.”
Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader) praises its “sheer personality and energy”. Time Out, “one could go on forever.”
La Clé des Songes, Figaro à Deauville, The Admirable Crichton...
“Let’s you and me try something while they’re having coffee.”
“We two? That might do some good.”
“Oh no, you go to your room and I’ll go to Madame’s.”
“We can’t try anything that way.”
The lobster and the dumb waiter.
A woman of breeding, worth a million. If one is not in the government, marriage.
A word of advice from the valet de chambre, a return to the stage, bachelor’s quarters...
And thus, figurez-vous, The Hireling (dir. Alan Bridges), après tout...
The editor of Paris-soir, his mistress the theatrical star currently at the Gymnase on the Grands Boulevards (and soon to revive her Camille), the lady correspondent of the New York Herald, and the young handsome film star from America sojourning at the Ritz (he lands his plane at Le Bourget to an adoring crowd ahead of Renoir’s La Règle du jeu).
On est bien cocu, c’est ça, la « Guitry touch ». Burns & Allen, Guitry & Morlay. Question of couchage, “all you did was sleep with a movie actor,” for all her dramatizing. “C’est une romantique,” says the correspondent who is quite otherwise, “tout de suite ou bien jamais.” Traffic, “il est absolument impossible de circuler dans Paris entre cinq et sept heures.”
The postal confusion of Godard’s “Montparnasse-Levallois” (Paris vu par...).
To Hollywood and City Hall respectively, pardi.
De Jeanne d’Arc à Philippe Pétain
Il s’agit d’un livre (cf. Humphrey Jennings’ Words for Battle).
As it is said, “tout ce qui n’est pas clair n’est pas français (il y a des portes sans issue—il y a même de fausses portes).”
Ronsard (“Remontrances au peuple de France”, 1560), etc.
Le Diable Boiteux
Talleyrand (Guitry), another clergyman to the French throne, “lame devil”.
Says the lady in his petit salon, “je suis d’Inde.” This follows on the dialogue of the footmen concerning the title character. The great diplomat asks her, “how do you mean?” She was born in India, she is not a turkey (dinde), he marries her.
“Que la fête commence...” Le Barbier de Séville. The two Christopher Columbuses...
The Emperor. “Quel dommage, mon Dieu, d’un aussi grand homme ait été si mal élevé.”
Congress of Vienna, comedy of the Emperor’s return (cf. Renoir, La Marseillaise).
“Le spectacle de la liberté.” The tribute of Lord Holland.
“La province.” Guitry lavishes himself in an extraordinary preface at the studio, praising his colleagues on this film (Varennes acts so well he could be in the Comédie-Française, Debucourt so well he could be elsewhere), down to the crew (bidding them drink to their dear ones), after the filming.
Rémonville, a case of marital disaffection, anciently, classically, ideally French, “a nice surprise,” Truffaut calls it.
A miracle could put the place on the map, something “extraordinary” (Pasteur was not from anyplace in particular, say Guitry’s provincials).
The husband, “chimera and clown”, according to his lawyer, who has a philosophy of “murderers and killers” (meurtriers et assassins) and a hundred acquittals in twenty years (Huston’s Prizzi’s Honor bears out his theory of “duels”).
The title is the wife’s post-mortem sobriquet.
Siodmak has The Suspect to provide Philip French of the Observer with “a calculatedly amoral black comedy” well before this.
Si Versailles m’était conté...
Guitry in his element, room to swing a cat in, fighting room, “something like”, a set of problems infinitely large, vast and filled with mystery, dangerous in the extreme, which he resolves with infinite care and a breath of wit, the whole shootin’ match.
Histoire du château. Autarchy of Louis XIV. La messe noire. La Chambre Ardente. “Racine tue beaucoup.”
According to a French critic, “plus un divertissement qu'une fresque historique.” Bosley Crowther of the New York Times found it all “ponderous”. Time Out sees “low key wit and patriotic ardour”. Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader) dismisses it as “Guitry-esque”. Criticism is a constant, as that remark by a courtier on Racine’s bloody plays will tell you.
“The most prestigious court in Europe,” burning a witch (certes, cp. La Poison).
“Molière writes plays, and you are a critic.”
“It is a strange enterprise, to make honest people laugh, Boileau, and to be perfectly happy one must make no-one laugh at all.”
A famous gathering of wits. “Oui, j’ai l’impression, que c’est nous, Louis XIV.”
Old age. “Cessez de vous frotter, Madame, de la sorte.”
A subtle influence on Kubrick is to be noted. You could hire a hat and watch the king eat, “c’était l’époque encore.”
High arching tilt-and-pan like a shot of royal tennis, “vous implorez le ciel?”
“Non, j’admire le plafond.”
Who can deny an influence on Rossellini?
Louis XV, “La Méprise amoureuse”.
“Mais, je suis Fragonard!” Guitry’s most amazing joke is here, a certain chevalier masked, the girl likewise who rejects him because she is the chevalier.
La Pompadour. Marivaux. Voltaire. A madman’s proposal to restore the king to popular favor, “after which he was drawn and quartered.”
Louis XVI. The scandalous affair of the Queen’s necklace, a thing of diamonds involving a prince of the Church, an adventuress, and a whore with a close resemblance to Her Majesty.
Leonard Maltin, “static, leaden-paced”. Truffaut speaks of Pagnol and Guitry in the same breath as “seriously underestimated in their time.”
Robespierre. Lavoisier. Chénier. Abolition of the death penalty. The Bastille. Rivarol.
Shaffer has the fainting joke in Forman’s Amadeus.
Napoleon slept at the Trianon.
“Toutes les gloires de la France.”
Before 8½, “le plus bel escalier du monde” (musique Françaix).
Filmed on location, “therefore sets by Mansart, gardens by Le Nôtre”.
Guitry’s marvelous gambit is to cast Talleyrand into the thick of things as a ministerial Tacitus recounting the history, with the aid of one stooge. This is in every way decisive, not least because it frees Guitry for the grand plan, a triconsular work laid out under the aegis of Stroheim and Welles, both of whom appear. Much of Foolish Wives is evident, and much of Citizen Kane.
At the midpoint, another division occurs. After finding a conception of the coronation (“immortalized by David”) fitting to his film, Guitry pays direct homage to Olivier’s Henry V (and even, possibly, to Salome, Where She Danced). Stroheim as Beethoven lets him pay indirect homage to Abel Gance’s Napoléon. His only really serious battle representation is at Waterloo, which is of a caliber to suggest Welles’ Chimes at Midnight in the offing, and in itself a cinematic marshaling expressive of the script as a whole.
Sacha Guitry would be pleased to think his masterpiece has repaid its debt to Citizen Kane by siring both Rossellini’s Pascal and Martinson’s Batman, which is to say, the great homme de théâtre might feel himself for a few hours antecedent to Nō as well as to burlesque, with pictures shot on location, ravishing females, and Welles as Gen. Lowe.
The specific transcendence is of simple homage paid to Gance. How this sleight of hand is achieved might be compared in its overall simplicity to the main or essential gag, making the Emperor of France and conqueror of Europe into a tale that is told by his minister, Talleyrand, of an evening. A soirée with an elegant raconteur! There is nothing up his sleeves, Guitry, he comes to you (as Talleyrand) as forthright as, say, Ken Russell in The Debussy Film. Here is the impossible object, here are the means I propose, voilà, let us make a film.
The result is of extreme subtlety, tending toward evanescence, but brought back to earth again and again with a trick and a boffo.
Les Trois Font La Paire
“Le cinéma fait la mort au travail,” says Cocteau.
The assassin (“action d’éclat”), the inspector (“nouveau Maigret”), the actor (inventor of “sonic gestures”), Rue Rachilde and Rue Alfred Jarry, on camera (cf. Penn’s Night Games) while shooting La Fille aux Yeux d’Or.
Truffaut tells us Guitry did not direct, but not who was his Preminger. The opening sequence prepares Lumet’s Bye Bye Braverman.
Hal Erickson (Rovi), “a very minor piece.”
Darry Cowl invents Godard on location. Michel Simon has a magnificent straight role as M. le Commissaire, comic and straight man are the two faces of the art, a Hitchcock motif (Murder!) with another joke about stage and screen (“un crime professionel!”), Cirque Medrano.
“The dialogue was so right, so true that it couldn’t be spoken badly, and the actors, left to themselves, found the correct tone quite naturally,” says Truffaut, “it was the tone in which the text had been written.”
Il s’agit d’une fille de joie... Inspector Bernard in a beard (like Guitry, briefly seen), Rodin. “Poets only pretend to die,” says Godard.
Il s’agit des jumeaux, semblables de l’assassin...
Comic drawings (cf. Pabst’s Cose da pazzi) take the place of Guitry’s extreme joy in displaying his actors as anything but murderers, pimps, thieves, layabouts, cops, etc.