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The Jean Renoir File – Part 2

The Jean Renoir File - Part 2

We continue with
the films of Jean Renoir which I saw 1952-1970 and noted in my movie card-file
for those years. You may note that the first four films were all made in
America and shot in English, because Renoir lived in Beverly Hills from 1940
until his death, having been extremely hurt by the rude and violently
oppressive reaction in his native France to his 1939 masterpiece, The Rules of the Game (see Part 1). This
only proves that we in the USA do not have a monopoly on insensitivity to
genius. Renoir, the youngest son of the great French Impressionist painter, was
a beautiful, saintly man, filled with humor and wisdom. To be in his presence
was a privilege. He was Orson Welles’ favorite director, yet Orson was
convinced that Renoir didn’t like his work at all, which turned
out to be absolutely untrue. Renoir admired Welles’ pictures; critic
Todd McCarthy told me of spending several days with Jean watching Orson’s
films with tremendous enthusiasm and admiration. And Renoir always spoke fondly
of Welles to me. But OW would just shake his head, choosing not to believe any
of that. When Renoir died in 1979, Welles wrote a long piece in the Los Angeles
Times titled “The Greatest of All Directors”. If you’re interested in reading what he wrote, here’s the link.

THE DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID (1946; d: Jean Renoir).

1961: Excellent* (Brilliantly acted, written and directed
tragi-comedy about a chambermaid and a family of French aristocrats who live in
the past, refusing to celebrate [the Revolutionary’s] Bastille Day;
among Renoir’s most personal, beautifully realized achievements, a
masterpiece of mood, period atmosphere; deeply felt and perhaps on a level with
Renoir’s best, “The Rules of the Game.”)

Added 1967: (A lovely film, far superior to [Luis] Bunuel’s
version, and, if not as great as some of Renoir’s French works, it
is still a masterpiece.)

SWAMP WATER (1941; d: Jean Renoir).

1962: Very good* (Walter Brennan, Anne Baxter, Dana Andrews, Walter
Huston in a beautiful, affecting, and excellently done drama set in the Florida
swamps; superbly photographed, and thoroughly convincing.)

Added 2015: The rating is low, considering how vivid so much of
this picture remains. It was Renoir’s first in English, but this doesn’t
show for a minute. It is eloquent visually, with very good performances from a
top cast. Renoir had wanted to shoot the whole film on location in the Florida
swamps but Fox head Darryl Zanuck would have none of that: interiors back in
Hollywood. Despite this conceptual drawback, Renoir triumphs with his seeming
simplicity.

THE WOMAN ON THE BEACH (1947; d: Jean Renoir).

1962: Excellent- (Fascinating, evocative, strangely lyric Renoir
film about a marine (Robert Ryan), his attraction to a married woman (Joan
Bennett), his obsession with her blind husband (Charles Bickford) who is not
really blind. Nightmarish, expertly directed, acted, provocatively written; a
weird and intriguing picture.

THE SOUTHERNER (1945; d: Jean Renoir).

1962: Excellent (Quiet, simple, profoundly human story of a
Southern farmer, his wife, his two children, their grandmother, their friends
and enemies. Directed and written with grace, understanding, and sympathy:
Renoir has a personal style totally his own and it is amazing to see a
Frenchman so easily and unpretentiously treat the American “peasant”.
His technique in this picture is particularly effective and evocative and his
images cling to the imagination. He is a great director.)

LE CAPORAL EPINGLE (THE ELUSIVE CORPORAL) (1961; d: Jean
Renoir).

1963: Very good (Touching, also often hilarious tragicomedy about
a few French soldiers in a German stalag during World War II, and one corporal’s
incorrigible attempts to escape; excellently acted, sometimes elliptically
written and directed; but deeply personal, completely and unmistakably Renoir
in its gentle compassion, humanistic viewpoint, melancholy attitudes.)

Added 1966: (Perhaps not entirely successful in its achievement,
but more interesting in conception and even in its defects, than most films
more formally controlled.)

LE CRIME DE MONSIEUR LANGE (THE CRIME OF MR. LANGE)
(1936;
d-s: Jean Renoir).

1964: Excellent (Beautifully written and directed, eloquently
played tragi-comedy about a publishing firm, its devilish owner, and a young
man who has never been to Arizona, but creates a fictional hero, “Arizona
Jim”, to great popular appeal. Typically Renoiresque in outlook,
deeply human, loving, tender, keenly observed. An early and youthful
masterpiece.)

Added 1969: (Marvelously zestful and filled with compassion, love
and a deep understanding of people.)

Added 2015: In 1936, with Mussolini and Hitler already in power,
Renoir makes a movie that is essentially about an excusable homicide. The owner
of the publishing firm is clearly a worthless, obnoxious, fascist pig, and
Monsieur Lange (pronounced in France with a soft G, so that the name sounds
like “l’ange,”
French for “angel.” It’s “The Crime of Mr. Angel,”
an important nuance that’s lost in translation, because the man he kills didn’t
deserve to live. This particular picture had a big impact on the French New
Wave, who always referred to Renoir as their spiritual father.

PARIS DOES STRANGE THINGS (ELENA ET LES HOMMES)
(1956;
d-s: Jean Renoir).

1967: (A disturbingly cut Renoir love story — dubbed
badly and therefore difficult to evaluate; beautiful costumes and period
flavor, some indifferent acting, certainly recognizable Renoir personality, but
requiring another viewing.)

Added 1967: Very good (Gentle, witty, often very funny period
romance —whose mood and intelligence is sustained by Renoir’s
instinctive knowledge of people as well as his love for them; beautiful color,
decor, a marvelous style and irreverence. Not among Renoir’s
most entirely satisfying works, but a delightful one nonetheless, and certainly
entirely personal.)

NANA (1926; d: Jean Renoir).

1968: Good (Renoir’s second or third film, but the first
that he considers a Renoir movie: an uneven version of the Zola, with some
wonderful period touches and a fine sense of atmosphere; not in any way an
accomplished work, but one of talent, imagination and interest. The cancan
scenes are the most distinctively his, as well as the sequences in the
theatre.)

TONI (1935; d: Jean Renoir).

1969: Very good* (Beautifully directed and conceived Renoir story
about an Italian in France and his tragic love for a woman who is not his, and
for whom he gives his life at the end. Simple, magnificently acted and
photographed; perhaps not as personal as the more recent Renoir films, but
unquestionably a lovely and moving work.)

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