Vautier, a rich surgeon, seduces the daughter of a fairground worker, using his money to silence the protests of her mother, then to eliminate any rivals for her affections. When her former lover shows up, Vautier forces her to choose between his money and her love for the younger man.
"Cette vieille canaille" is not a great film, but it contains a great central performance by Harry Baur. It's another of the "civilised ogre" roles that he played so often and so well, breathing humanity into what might have ended up, in the hands of a lesser actor, as a caricature.
As played by Baur, we can't help feeling a certain pity for Vautier. Like the financier in Maurice Tourneur's "Samson" (also played by Baur), this is a man who expects no love, or even fidelity, from the girl he has bought, but who knows the power of money and its hold on people. When Vautier perversely arranges a rendez-vous between his mistress and her former lover, it becomes more than a test of his power over her: it's a crucible of his whole cynical view of human nature.
Pierre Blanchar plays the younger man in this triangle with his usual nervous intensity. His scenes with Harry Baur are a highlight of the film and give us a taste of the more elaborate cat-and-mouse games played by the two actors in the 1935 adaptation of "Crime and Punishment".
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