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Saturday, January 17, 2015

PARIS BRÜLE-T-IL? / IS PARIS BURNING (1966)

Big, handsome, slightly dull WWII historical, built to grab the same crowds who flocked to THE LONGEST DAY/’62. But even with the full RoadShow treatment (advance tix; 70mm blow-up; overture & intermission), it never quite took off. Scene-by-scene, director René Clément does some meticulous work (impeccably lensed by Marcel Grignon), but the all-star international cast are either consigned to cameos (often for a quick, ironic death) or get one-note roles designed to move things along. A few vet names manage to connect (Orson Welles, Charles Boyer), but only Gert Fröbe, as the German General with orders to either hold or destroy Paris as the Allies advance and the local resistance splinters with Gaullists right and Commies left, gets something approaching a character arc. (Strange that a script from Gore Vidal & Francis Coppola should lack narrative transitions or momentum.) LONGEST DAY used hokey personal stories & coincidences to build suspense & audience identification; but the PARIS palette runs sec, only to uncork something a little bland, a little flat. (NOTE: Dubbed in the dead acoustic common to the period, the film probably plays better in English than in French. But double back just to hear a bit of Glenn Ford’s General Bradley in French. It’s stupendously silly.)

DOUBLE-BILL: Clémént’s earlier WWII German occupation pic, LA BATAILLE DU RAIL/’45, is rougher, more personal & more convincing, though equally low on characterization & structure. OR: Volker Schlöndorff’s just out DIPLOMACY/’14 (not seen here), a two-hander debate drama between the Swiss Consul General & the German Military Governor of Occupied Paris (the Welles & Fröbe roles).

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY/LINK: Composer Maurice Jarre (Oscar’d that year for DOCTOR ZHIVAGO/’66) was a very naughty boy here, largely filching his main musical tattoo from Dmitri Shostakovich’s famous wartime Symphony #7: Leningrad. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwfgQG7n_L0 (Go about 10 minutes in for it.) And here’s Jarre’s ‘Resistance’ theme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sf-Yl3Li9rU (Go about 3 minutes in to hear it take over.)

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