FILM JULY 5, 1954
Some West German film producers are talking about making movies especially for the American market—another sign of industrial vitality, we may suppose. A few interesting German films have tried to buck the post-war indifference towards things German here: The Blum Affair, and Die Pledermaus, for example. But like most of the British, French and Italian films whose
US success the Germans envy, these were made first and most of all for audiences in their own country. There is a dubious premise to the German argument that the increasing favor for foreign films appears to indicate that they can make American films for Americans as well—or better—than our own producers. Hollywood films often are slanted towards the overseas box-office, but they remain American films, to be sure, for better or worse. Quality emerges out of mastery of one's own style and technique. Some current foreign imports illustrate the point.
Scotch on the Rocks is an imitation —but an imitation of another British film. Whisky Galore, which was released here as Tight Little Island. Again, there is the pressure of British bureaucracy on quaint, clannishly individualistic Highlanders. And again, the Sassenachs succumb to Scottish wile and charm, amid comically improbable adventures. But while Scotch may be Whisky in considerable dilution, it has genuine flavor of its own; if it imitates, at least the model is authentically native, and not itself poor mimicry of foreign bottling.
Produced for Group Three by John Grierson, and directed by John Eldridge, the film visually makes the most of its locals in the bleak Hebrides, and squeezes a few tasty drops of genre humor from an assortment of Highland types.
From the first moments of a superlative opening that sets the scene as late Victorian by showing a row of fashionable boots of the time, and introduces the leading character with a great Falstaffian belch, Hobson's Choice is unmitigated delight. Following the old play by Harold Brighouse, the story tells of the humiliation of a preposterous Lancashire bourgeois, under the stern hand of his daughter and the best bootmaker of his shop, whom she raises from mock servility to be her husband and her father's partner. Good' satire demands fundamental authenticity, and David Lean's production and direction faithfully reconstructs a lost empire of the middle class, deftly integrating broad caricature and subtle characterization.
As a man of really titanic physical and mental flatulence, Charles Laughton has his part of parts, richly comical in depth and fully realized in pathetic pomposity. His superb acting is matched by Brenda de Banzie as his determined, outwardly adamant and inwardly gentle daughter, and by John Mills, who gives more stirring evidence of his range in projecting die gradual transformation of the humble journeyman.
The Red Inn, written by Jean Aurenche and directed by Claude Autant Lara—the makers of The Devil In The Flesh—is a kind of grisly joke that could never be made here. For one thing, its comical monk and occasional happy irreverence would not fit current American conventions. But most of all, the film depends on a sense of comedy that finds the drollery of Balzac and the dread rituals of Grand Guignol a tasty combination. A sort of reductio ad Gallios of the idea of A Slight Case of Murder, the film relishes the frantic efforts of a monk to prevent the whole-sale murder of a diligence-load of travelers at an isolated inn, whose keepers for years have engaged in the inhospitality of killing and robbing their guests. His dilemma is that he learns of the profitably nefarious practice from the hostess' confession, which, of course, he must keep confidential in sacred trust. His antics to save his own skin and those of the travelers, while unsuccessfully trying to keep his young novice from returning to the world, in the person of the innkeeper's pretty young daughter, make for some delightful suspense. Fernandel clowns broadly as the monk, Francoise Rosay is piously malevolent as die innkeeper's wife, and Carette is a proper villain as her husband. There is a consistently ironic ending to this film, whose off-beat comic virtues—albeit among faults —are made possible only in a peculiarly French milieu.
As quintessentially French, yet having the universal appeal of the great comedies of the silent screen, is Jacques Tati's Mr. Hulet's Holiday.
Without exaggeration, this film has some of the funniest visual satire since Chaplin^ abetted by hilarious sound effects. The opening, for example, takes off the thunderously echoing inaudibility of railway-station loudspeakers, achieving an amazing humor through sheer noise —although the antics of the vacationers are ludicrous enough. The repertoire of wheezes, backfires, creaks, rasps, and gurgles of Hulot's delightfully impossible little flivver create an aural personality as distinctive as that of Alec Guinness' bubbling apparatus in The Man In The White Suit. But the sounds are only spice.
Tati, who directed, produced and helped write the film, stars as M. Hulot himself. Here is a conception worthy of Daudet's Tartarin, as well as of Chaplin and Keaton. Through the whole of film, there runs a shrewd satire of vacation time and folk, the film proceeding in daily episodes much as a vacation is measured, from day to day, each its own era. You will not forget Hulot's well-meaning ineptitude that rises to empyreal absurdity. Playing preposterous tennis, wrestling with perpetually dripping taffy, blundering into a funeral, or being shot off a tow-line like a belt from a cross-bow, he is the most engagingly slapstick Frenchman since the best Rene Clair. With little dialogue, the film achieves a kind of comedy that becomes universally apposite because it so penetratingly satirizes people in a particular time and place in a style that is unique and wholly accomplished.
This article originally ran in the July 5th, 1954, issue of the magazine.