17 April 2017 | BSKIMDB
Chevalier's charm et la joie du vivre
In turn-of-the-century England Gaston, an artist in love with an upper class girl against her family wishes, accepts to go away from her as the condition imposed by a wealthy rival, to spare her the suffering of loosing her position due to a heavy debt contracted by her father. Broken-hearted, he leaves for France with his young servant. They ramble around through small villages and join a young girl as popular musicians with increasing success in their way to Paris, where things will take a different turn when his former love reappears.
The best quality of the film lays in its charm and relative simplicity. Relative because it has a rather elaborated production design (including Schiaparelli dresses), except for a couple of scenes where the studio-arranged backgrounds can be noticed. The plot does enough for the story, and the fact that is was partly shot in natural environments only does it good. And then the actors make it special. Not only Chevalier offers an easy and typical performance, but the rest of the cast is also good. Specially young Serge Grave, who acts naturally and adds credibility. Helène Robert makes a charming Blanquette, and the three make a good combination bringing happiness and optimism to French villagers. Betty Stockfeld is also good as Joanna -and has a curious physical resemblance to Jeanette MacDonald. Secondary roles are played amongst others by Fernand Ledoux, and Madeleine Guitty in what would be her last film has a couple of brief amusing scenes.
This film was directed by Kurt (Curtis) Bernhardt before he would leave Germany due to his Jewish inheritance and chose exile to the States, where he would become famous at Warner then MGM. It has two versions, which as it was customary in those times when dubbing did not yet exist were simultaneously shot both in French and English. Betty Stockfeld, a Canadian actress who had a French education, effectively plays the upper class lady in both, while Helène Robert and Margaret Lockwood play the musician who tours the countryside.
This is a film which was believed lost until it was casually found at the Cinémathèque de Toulouse. The French version DVD by Lobster is wonderfully restored with an excellent image quality.