Wednesday, 4 November 2009

JOUR SE LEVE (1939) and THE LONG NIGHT (1946)

Jour se leve

Marcel Carne's JOUR SE LEVE bridges the gap between the Poetic Realism movement and that of The Popular Front. The film starts with a murder and then; with the murderer cornered in his attic room, we see how fate has led to the crime. Carne is one of the great directors of cinema with a string of classic films to his name and with his epic drama LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS often being cited as one of the greatest films ever made. The great French actor Jean Gabin plays the man who is trapped by his love for a pretty girl despite the evidence of her fickleness and ultimate betrayal - her impressionable head being turned by the attentions of the toadlike but suave Valentin - a trainer of performing dogs (the irony is not lost on the attentive viewer) - while rejecting the more honest and genuine love of Valentin's ex-assistant (played by the wonderful Arletty). From the start of the affair we see Gabin's character being sucked into an inescapable web and few actors have ever been as capable as Gabin of expressing the world weariness of a man who knows where fate is leading him. If JOUR SE LEVE is a great film, Anatole Litvak's remake THE LONG NIGHT is certainly a very good film, even an excellent one, up to a point. That it fails to reach the heights of the French original is, I think, due more to Hollywood convention and censorship than any real fault of the film makers. THE LONG NIGHT has a lot going for it. Firstly it has one of Henry Fonda's career best performances - it is a detailed portrayal which is in many ways the equal to Gabin's in the original. Likewise Ann Dvorak is tremendous as the showgirl whose love is ultimately rejected. Where Litvak's film not only equals but actually surpasses the earlier film is in the casting of Vincent Price in the Valentin role (here he is called Maximilian). Where Berry was an almost comical dirty old man, Price is positively wolfish. THE LONG NIGHT gives the character more screen time than the first film so we see more of his seduction of the girl. This is probably because the Hollywood version needs to make her more of a victim of evil (to accomodate to changed ending) than the more fickle, rather dim girl of Carne's film. So where does THE LONG NIGHT finally go wrong? It is in the changed ending. I watched the films on consecutive nights and three quarters of the way through the American film I knew that Hollywood was not going to have the courage to follow the French lead. Giving the film a totally illogical upbeat ending (and it really doesn't make sense) robs the film of the tremendous final shot of the French film which Carne holds and holds to devastating effect. Hollywood just wasn't ready for that. Both films look terrific with Sol Polito's crisp black and white photography being a highlight of the American film and Alexander Trauner's sets (cleverly aped by Eugene lourie for THE LONG NIGHT) being standout in JOUR SE LEVE. The object of desire is played in Carne's film by the excellent Jacqueline Laurent and in the remake by Barbara Bel Geddes (who I find almost as intensely irritating as June Allyson) making her film debut. Ratings : JOUR SE LEVE ***** THE LONG NIGHT ****
The Long Night

1 comment:

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