24 October 2010 | Bunuel1976
¡GUARD, ALERT! (Jean Gremillon and Luis Bunuel, 1937) **
It is odd that Luis Bunuel singled out the uninspired but decidedly above-average melodrama A WOMAN WITHOUT LOVE (1952) as his worst film; in retrospect, his two Musicals would more readily fit the bill – having just re-acquainted myself with the uncharacteristic-but-not-unenjoyable GRAN CASINO (1947), the picture that paved the way for his artistic renaissance, I followed it with this even milder rare effort from his 'underground' days (Bunuel's last before leaving Spain for Hollywood, where his career virtually ground to a stand-still).
Anyway, I was under the impression that this would be a politically-oriented film, given the military connotation of the title; still, it's not really an out-and-out Musical either (nor was GRAN CASINO, for that matter) – rather it's a romantic drama revolving around a love triangle which happens to include a handful of song numbers by the hero (a soldier-cum-vaudeville-performer). The latter is played by Pablo Alvarez Rubio, who had been a memorable Renfield (every bit as good as Dwight Frye in the classic U.S. version) in the 'rival' Spanish production of Dracula (1931).
The slight plot has a girl, left pregnant by a seducer, setting off to look for him when the child is born (the latter eventually proves a most amiable kid); she is befriended by a couple of ex-soldiers, even taking her in when they open a drugstore. Rubio falls for her and, though she reciprocates his affection, still hopes to rejoin her former lover. However, when the latter does turn up, his sneaky behavior arouses the suspicion of the hero's sidekick who decides to follow his movements (taking up work as an amateur detective a' la Buster Keaton's SHERLOCK JR.  to this end!). The situation is resolved one night in the shop, as the villain is surprised burgling the premises by his romantic rival – with the former ending up dead when the place is destroyed in a fire! Feeling betrayed, the hero takes off by himself on a musical tour, but his former partner contrives to bring the couple together again.
If the film has even less of a recognizably Bunuelian touch than GRAN CASINO, that is because this was one of the now-all-but-lost 18 films he supervised (acting basically as the Executive Producer) between 1934-7 and only stepped into the director's chair when the man assigned to the task, Frenchman Jean Gremillon, fell ill; that said, the film boasts no official credits to speak of! In any case, while the musical numbers – which are very Spanish (and, therefore, evoke an atmosphere quite different to the one for the later Mexican venture) – are pretty much staged in Hollywood's then-typical manner, alas, they are not otherwise notable; besides, the comedy relief supplied by the earnest but bumbling sidekick is resistible at best! In conclusion, though I own a quartet of other titles by Gremillon, including two vintage Jean Gabin vehicles (namely GUEULE D'AMOUR  and REMORQUES ), I have yet to watch any of them