2 March 2008 | dbdumonteil
Out of the airplane stepped Chamberlain....
....with a condemned men's stare
But we all cheered wildly (..) As he waved a piece of paper in the air.
Elvis Costello ("Peace on our time" )
Probably the best of Edmond T Greville's movies ;claiming that the French were not up to scratch -it took a lot a nerve to say that whereas the late thirties were the apex of that cinema- and exiling himself to England ,he made there undistinguished works such as 'Brief ecstasy" or " "Secret lives" when Renoir ,Duvivier and Carné were at the top of their game and easily outdistanced Greville.
"Menaces" is his come back in every sense of the word.People who see it today may be disconcerted that this 1940 film includes some anachronistic scenes towards the end: the Liberation,and the coming of the Americans .The negative was burned by the Nazis during the occupation ,and reconstructed in 1944 ,adding these optimistic (and sad) final scenes.
"Menaces" deals with the months before WW2 in a hotel:the fear of the impending war never leaves the guests of an hotel in Paris.The Munich agreement, Poland invasion,Danzig ,and the calling up provide a good background.Erich Von Stroheim is the stand out;wearing a mask which covers the half of his face ,he "represents" peace and war .He has the best lines of the dialog"Now it's time to show my "War side" ,he says,removing his mask.He portrays an Austrian doctor who was wounded in WW1 and he knows that if war breaks out again,he will become the enemy .His character will remind the viewer of his part in "Les Disparus de Saint-Agil" by Christian-Jaque where he played a German teacher,kept in the background by his colleagues .It's extraordinary that almost all of Stroheim's French parts of the thirties and the forties -with few exceptions such as "La Grande Illusion" - were demeaning ones,predating that of "Sunset boulevard" .(see also "La Foire Aux Chimères" and "Portrait D'un Assassin")
The other guests of the hotel include Denise (Mireille Balin ,whose best parts were in Duvivier's "Pepe le Moko" and GRemillon's "Gueule d' Amour" where she played opposite Gabin in both) a girl engaged to a British pilot who is loved by a wistful artist who covers the walls of his bedroom with the pictures of his impossible love (he is an artist).
In Paris,just before the war,people are worrying,but living and loving.