Sunday, May 25, 2008


I just watched the Criterion Edition of French Cancan, the first film Jean Renoir made in France after being practically run out of the country for Rules Of The Game 12 years earlier. I watched the brief bits of commentary and picked up on how this film was Renoir's tribute to show business and wish to entertain the French public. What surprised me though was that the film also seems to be Renoir's version of the classic old Hollywood musical, 42nd Street.

It follows the same plot with a down and out producer trying to put on a show and showing special attention to an innocent little dancer who eventually becomes the show's star. It also has the same subplot about the show's leading lady being jealous of the newcomer and Jean Renoir, playing the producer, give a rousing speech to the heroine near the end similar to Warner Baxter's famous "You're coming back a star" rant in 42nd Street. However this is a French film so the entire situation is a lot more adult than anything Hollywood would dare even back in the Pre-Code days.
The "leading lady" is actually a dancer/courtesan who seems to be modeled after the famous Lola Montes. There's also more than professional jealousy around since everyone is sleeping with eveyone else. The leading lady sleeps with Gabin and the show's backers. The little ingenue eventually becomes Gabin's mistress. In fact she deliberately loses her virginity with her boyfriend so Gabin won't think she's an innocent! At the end the young girl is the hit of the newly opened Moulin Rouge with no steady lover in sight and she loves it. All this is done with that wonderful Gallic whimsy Renoir was expert at in his frothier pictures. I have no idea if Renoit ever actually saw 42nd Street but it's certainly possible he saw it.

Anyway the film is as much a fun love letter to French theatre as the earlier one was to Broadway.

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