18 June 2005 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
After you, m'sieur Raoul...
Raoul Walsh was one of the greatest directors in film history, yet his autobiography 'Each Man in His Time' is quite dull ... indicating that Walsh's visual sense was greater than his story sense. The opening titles of 'Hot for Paris' give Walsh a credit for writing the scenario, but 'credit' might be the wrong word. The many merits of this film are fatally compromised by a terrible storyline.
Victor McLaglen is the mate aboard a ship that's just arrived at Le Havre. He's been here before, of course, and his reputation has preceded him ... so when a prat named Pratt starts pursuing McLaglen, he naturally assumes that Pratt (Lennox Pawle) is seeking compensation for one of McLaglen's stosh-ups. In some very clumsy expository dialogue, we learn something that McLaglen doesn't know ... because if he knew it, there'd be no movie. In his previous visit, McLaglen bought a lottery ticket. Now he's hit the jackpot, and Pratt wants to give him the cheque for his winnings. Because we know this, it's immensely frustrating to watch McLaglen constantly evading the man with the lolly.
El Brendel, as McLaglen's sidekick, is saddled with some of his trademark "yumpin' yiminy" dialogue. Even more wretchedly treated here is Fifi D'Orsay, a Canadian actress whom Fox lumbered with a French screen name (and a cod French accent) in an attempt to pass her off to American moviegoers as a Parisienne. In this movie, off-key D'Orsay plays a doozie of a floozie who mangles English like she's in one of those Franglish routines by Miles Kington. Raoul Walsh's dialogue and direction require D'Orsay to speak implausibly fractured English in a bad French accent. This is the first time I've ever felt sorry for a Canadian.
Victor McLaglen usually played two-fisted brawlers who didn't take guff from anybody. In a better McLaglen vehicle than 'Hot for Paris', McLaglen would stand still long enough to find out what his pursuer wants, confident that he can handle any trouble. So, in this movie, it's intensely annoying (and implausible) that the huge brawny McLaglen keeps ducking the much smaller and older Lennox Pawle, who is clearly no physical match for him.
The art direction and editing are better than usual for Fox in this period, and when there's some action in this movie (which isn't often) Walsh's instincts are sure. But the script and dialogue (especially D'Orsay's) are so wretched, and the terrible story premise is so poorly sustained, that I can't get enthusiastic for this movie. Walsh and McLaglen were usually dynamite together, but here they're just a damp squib. Still, I'll give Raoul Walsh some credit for making this movie at all: he wrote and directed 'Hot for Paris' shortly after the accident that cost him an eye and ended Walsh's promising career as an action star. (In the last years of his life, tragically, Walsh lost all the sight in his remaining eye.) Out of great sympathy and respect for the rest of Raoul Walsh's great career, I'll rate this clinker 'Hot for Paris' a very lukewarm 3 out of 10.