Wednesday, April 24, 2013

60. La Chienne/The Bitch (1931)

Running Time: 91 minutes
Directed By: Jean Renoir
Written By: Andre Girard, from novel by Georges de La Fouchardiere
Main Cast: Michel Simon, Janie Mareze, Georges Flamant, Magdeleine Berubet, Roger Gaillard

Note: This review will begin the initiation of a new format here at 1001 Movies I (Apparently) Must See Before I Die. Feeling the need to shake things up a bit, just to add a little spice to my journey, I've decided to start moving in a new order. Previously, I was moving in random order, but keeping each season (group of 100) focused on a specific decade (the current season was previously packed with films from the 1950s). Henceforth, the new watching order will be as follows: I'll be watching the five oldest movies I have left from THE BOOK, in chronology. After I've watched those five movies, I'll then jump to the end of THE BOOK and watch the five newest movies I have left, backwards in chronology. I'll continue this trend, jumping back and forth, watching the five oldest then the five newest, until I meet in the middle. In addition, I've also selected twenty-five movies and set them aside and these twenty-five movies are to be my grand finale, when I reach the end of my journey. The twenty-five movies I have chosen are either personal favorites of mine or movies that have been deemed classics. For now, I'll keep those twenty-five titles under my hat, but if you're playing along at home and paying very close attention, you might just be able to spot which movies I skip and therefore which movies are part of the grand finale.


Okay, now with that business out of the way, we can get down to the business at hand and that is the first Jean Renoir film from THE BOOK, one that I was forced to skip so long ago.  In case you weren't following above, this is officially the oldest film I had left to watch from THE BOOK, as everything pre-1931 had already been watched and reviewed.

The film stars Michel Simon as Maurice Legrand, a timid cashier, who is bullied by his co-workers and his wife, whose only solace is painting. His co-workers bully him for being spineless and a "wet blanket" and his wife (Berubet) is constantly comparing him to her late husband, Sergeant Alexis Godard. One evening, while on his way home from an office get together, Maurice witnesses a pimp, Andre (a.k.a. Dede) (Flamant) abusing his "girl", Lucienne (a.k.a. Lulu) (Mareze) and steps in to make the rescue, knocking down a very drunk Dede and seeing the girl home safely. At the end of the evening, Lulu and Maurice make plans to see each other again and he tells her to write him via the post office, so his wife won't find the letters. Fast forward a month later and Maurice is head over heels for Lulu, buying her anything she wishes and maxing out his own pockets in the process, even resorting to stealing money from his wife's secret stash and even further, at his workplace, from the till. Maurice even goes so far as to set Lulu up in a pretty cushy little apartment, giving her his paintings (that his wife told him to get rid of or else), in order to decorate the flat a bit better. Meanwhile, Dede is sore. He's broke and he's getting tired of resorting to the kindness of his pals to pay for his drinks and spot him money when he loses a game of poker. One day, while visiting Lulu, Maurice gets the idea to try and sell some of Maurice's paintings, passing them off as being painted by a Clara Wood. After taking them to a pretty well renowned art critic, the critic loves them and knows he can get a good price for them. Therefore, Dede starts selling paintings and soon steps up in the world, masquerading Lulu off as Clara, the painter and making huge profits. Lulu keeps Maurice on the string, so he can provide him with more paintings, but really she wants Dede, who barely gives her the time of day. It all boils down to an unbelievable conclusion, complete with murder and zombies...kind of.


First of all, you've got to hear the story that comes out of the "La Chienne" production: So apparently, while filming, Michel Simon fell in love with Janie Mareze and meanwhile, Janie Mareze fell in love with Georges Flamant. Renoir and his producer actually encouraged the fling between Mareze and Flamant, because they felt it would only add to their performances. After shooting wrapped, Flamant (who apparently wasn't a very good driver) too Mareze out for a ride and wrecked the car, killing her. At the funeral, Michel Simon had to be held up as he passed the casket, nearly fainting and ultimately pulling a gun on Renoir and blaming him for her death. Man, talk about some serious off-screen drama, my God! Anyway, I found that to be an interesting tidbit that I wanted to share with you all.

The movie was great and surprisingly, I really really liked it...a lot. Honestly, having not gone gaga for "The Rules of the Game" or "Boudu Saved From Drowning" and only really liking "Grand Illusion", but not in excess, I didn't expect to take to "La Chienne", Renoir's least known film in THE BOOK. The storytelling that goes on here is the work of a masterpiece maker, as Renoir builds and builds, until we can't wait to see how everything gets wrapped up. Think of it like this: I was so unengaged at the start of the picture, that at the sixteen minute mark, I decided I needed to step outside for a cigarette. I came back, restarted and at about the forty minute mark, I started to lean on my fist a little bit and scooted my butt to the edge of my seat. By the time the climax came around, I couldn't wait to see what happened to all of these characters and what crazy little, clever twist would be thrown in next. This was great fun, sad at times, funny at times and just a good, old fashioned time at the movies. From Dede selling Legrand's paintings as his own to the "resurrection" of Alexis Godard to the murder of Lulu, this film just kept adding things and adding things, until you just couldn't predict what was going to go down next.

This is actually a picture that I could totally see Woody Allen remaking and putting his own little twists on. Apparently in 1945, Fritz Lang remade the film as "Scarlett Street" and actually, that's a film that has been on my watch list for some time now. Watching Edward G. Robinson in the Maurice role would be interesting, but I just can't imagine Eddie G. playing such a timid character, as he's always been someone with a strong, onscreen voice. Anyway, back to my point about Woody Allen, as it seems to be right up his alley, filled with lots of little, unexpected happenstances; just the sort of thing Woody likes to give us. Also, after "Match Point", we know he's no stranger to playing a little rougher around the edges, when need be, so filming the murder and court scenes with a serious lens wouldn't be a problem. Oh well, this is just wishful thinking and probably would never actually happen.

RATING: 7.5/10  Great great filmmaking from Renoir and I think my enjoyment of this film is a good omen for the new format I'm trying out. I'm really excited for the new format and am positive that it will go off without a hitch.


April 24, 2013  1:46am


  1. Ah ha.. another one I was looking forward to you doing..

    One I had difficulty getting hold of and had to buy.. but glad I did as i liked this a lot.
    I was intrigued as I knew it was the 'original version' of Scarlett Street.. another one I really like.
    I get your point, you wouldn't think of Edward G. as as a timing browbeaten husband.. but he is superb.
    I had never thiught of how it would be re-made by Woody Allen. I had to stop and think about that for a while.. and yes, the concept is growing on me.. good thought!
    I did like this, but I must see it again as it suffered a little in my eyes by comparing it to Scarlet street.. I need to view it in it's own right.

    1. I definitely like the Woody Allen remake idea. You have bits of comedy, bits of drama and hey, you even have a guy cheating on his wife, a Woody Allen staple if there ever was one.

  2. I liked this one so much it immediately went onto my non-existent Top 100 Films list!

    Robinson is excellent in Scarlet Street, as are Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea. It's a wonderful film but does not have the satiric bite of this one.

    1. "Scarlett Street" immediately went on my seemingly neverending watchlist. Thanks for the comment Marie! Glad you liked this one too.


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