Tuesday, January 06, 2004


Well, I thought I was going to put these all in one big FPP, but that's proving unwieldy for several reasons.


small screen - january 2004 - the worst

There appears to be some question as to whether or not the French have a sense of humor. This film would suggest that they probably don't.
Brief synopsis: Plunked down in Edwardian England, we meet Irwin Molyneux, henpecked botanist who secretly writes socially damning crime fiction under the pseudonym Felix Chapel because his wife demands that they need the money to maintain their servants. This ends up not mattering because she nags them right out of the house, all that is except for their beautiful maid Eva who (unbeknownst to the wife) has been helping Molyneux write his stories. The fly in the ointment is their cousin, a snooty womanizing Bishop who is crusading against Chapel, claiming that he's corrupting the youth. Just to complicate matters, a vegetarian serial killer(?) named William Kramps is out to kill Chapel because... well, he read Chapel's book and it got him in trouble. It's not especially clear. As with much of this movie, it's not really important why or how things are happening, just that they're happening. So that leads to the Bishop inviting himself to dinner with the Molyneux's just after the servants leave. Mortified that she'll lose face if the Bishop discovers that she's without her cook, Ms. Molyneux elects instead to hide in the kitchen and have her husband tell the bishop that she's gone off to visit a relative, but will our Bishop believe THAT horseshit? Oh, no. Which leads to an (apparently) famous sequence with the Bishop saying... well, saying this:

L'ÃvÃque : Et à demeurent-ils exactement, ces amis qui ont la rougeole ?
Molyneux : Ah oui... Ã ils demeurent exactement ? Vous me demandez, mon cher cousin, Ã ils demeurent exactement ? Euh... ben, c'est bien simple, ils demeurent exactement dans les environs de... euh... Brighton, je crois.
L'ÃvÃque : Vous croyez, cher cousin... bizarre, bizarre...
Molyneux : Qu'est-ce qu'il a ?
L'ÃvÃque : Qui ?
Molyneux : Votre couteau ?
L'ÃvÃque : Comment ?
Molyneux : Vous regardez votre couteau et vous dÃtes bizarre, bizarre, alors je croyais que...
L'ÃvÃque : Moi j'ai dit œbizarre, bizarre ? Comme c'est Ãtrange... Pourquoi aurais-je dit bizarre, bizarre?
Molyneux : Je vous assure, cher cousin, que vous avez dit bizarre, bizarre.
L'ÃvÃque : Moi j'ai dit bizarre ? Comme c'est bizarre...

Well, actually it's not much funnier in English. Mostly disingenuous wordplay and repetition. Where were we? Oh yeah, the Bishop decides Molyneux is hiding something and that that something is that Molyneux has killed his wife. Something to do with a fake telegram. Again, not why it happens, but THAT IT IS happening. So when Molyneux slips out to a hotel with his wife after the Bishop makes it clear he's waiting until she shows up, he calls Scotland Yard. But wait! He's left behind a signed photo book of the hot chicas he frequents... including one page autographed personally to him! How scandalous! Then the city decides Molyneux is a dangerous killer. Then the wife refuses to let them just come forward and prove their innocence for reasons that remain dubious and then simply cease to matter. Then things get really confusing. I haven't even told you about the amorous milkmaid who likes to pull peoples ears or the narcoleptic psychic detective or the nutty aunt with the big inheritance and the dog that she keeps forgetting is dead.... I could go on this way for another six paragraphs, but I won't.
So it's part Rear Window and part As You Like It and part David Lynch and part Frank Capra and it's a French comedy of manners cum murder/suspense story and this is generally just the sort of movie I generally go gaga for and at the risk of sounding lowbrow (no less than Pauline Kael called it "Dadaist frivolity, with sequences that one giggles over happily for years"), it felt like a terrible chore to get through.
Dreadfully redundant and plodding word gags and a truly unlikable cast of characters make it tough to empathise. It's really NOT THAT STRANGE of a movie; more inexplicable and foolish than anything else, but foolish and inexplicable in a "Good Heavens" or a "WTF" way. Worst of all, it's not funny. Not a giggle to be found.
The acting is uniformly excellent but some of the characters (particularly Louis Jouvet, the Bishop, who wears a Scottish kilt for most of the last third of the film... don't ask) are SO annoying that I can't even concentrate on the acting.
Gorgeous camera work tho'; the cinematographer from Metropolis is responsible for the same here. Wonderful directing choices abound, including a few truly memorable scenes (the sleeping detective floating up into a standing J'accuse!, the vegetarian serial murder naked poolside in a greenhouse).
Maybe I'm an MTV Generation victim on this one, but I rather doubt it. I greatly enjoyed the one other Marcel Carne (DdD's director) film I saw, Le Million; and his Children of Paradise is one of my father's all time favorites. I'm gonna have to plead "didn't click for me" on this one.
Drole de Drame looks and plays like Surrealist Oscar Wilde, two great tastes you might presume would go great together but somehow don't.

an interesting French Louis Jouvet site - nicely designed French movie site complete with the title music... sounds like Howdy Doody, dunnit? - bbc review - the online home of the Boston Marcel Carne Archives -
Great Marcel Carne fan site with an annoying, stuttering MIDI version of "New York, New York"(?)

Watched this over two days. Kinda disappointing and unpleased and forced myself through the last twenty minutes or so. I was expecting a lot out of this so it really put me down. Later that night I ran off to watch Thirteen. Tres bummer, ya'll. I swear, I really DO like films.