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CRIME OF MONSIEUR LANGE, THE (Crime de Monsieur Lange, Le) (director: Jean Renoir; screenwriter: story by Jean Castanyer/Jacques Prévert; cinematographer: Jean Bachelet; editors: Marthe Huguet/Marguerite Renoir; music: Joseph Kosma; cast: (René Lefèvre (Amédée Lange), Florelle (Valentine), Marcel Lévesque (The Concierge), Odette Talazac (The Concierge), Henri Guisol (The Son Meunier), Maurice Baquet (Charles), Jules Berry (Batala), Sylvain Itkine (Batala’s cousin), Marcel Duhamel (The Foreman), René Génin (A Client at the Auberge), Sylvia Bataille (Edith), Nadia Sibirskaïa (Estelle), Jacques B. Brunius (Mr. Baigneur), Jean Dasté (The Model maker); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: André Halley des Fontaines; Brandon Films/Quartet Films; 1936-France-in French with English subtitles)
“Renoir’s sanguine contribution to France’s Popular Front.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jean Renoir (“Grand Illusion”/”The Rules of the Game”) passionately directs this classic comedy/romance/crime drama from a story by Jean Castanyer that’s penned by the indomitable Jacques Prévert. It’s Renoir’s sanguine contribution to France’s Popular Front, with the director falling head over heels in love with his domestic revolutionaries.

Monsieur Amédée Lange (Rene Lefevre) is an introverted employee of a Paris publishing house run by the shady Batala (Jules Berry, a stage actor making his hammy film debut). The dreamer writes an exotic adventure story called “Arizona Jim,” and after being initially pleased it was published discovers to his consternation that Batala placed ads for Ranimax pills throughout his story with the hero popping the pills for energy.

The film opens at the isolated Frontier Café and Hotel that’s located on a northern border town, where Lange and his pretty blonde laundress girlfriend Valentine (Florelle) are dropped off in the car driven by young businessman Meunier (Henri Guisol). Lange is spotted by one of the patrons as a wanted murderer and wants to turn them over to the police. Valentine admits he’s a murderer, but asks the group of patrons to hear their story before acting. The film goes into flashback.

Batala is shown to be a scoundrel who is hated by his workers and those he does business with. He manipulates his secretary Edith (Sylvia Bataille) to do unethical favors for him with false promises of love, and has borrowed money from old man Meunier on false promises without paying him back. The absent-minded Lange forgot to give him a registered letter he’s held for over a week from old man Meunier that warns Batala if some arrangement can’t be worked out within the week he will take him to court. Rather than face the music, Batala absconds with the company funds by train. He’s thought to be dead in the subsequent train wreck, and the unpaid workers at the magazine publishing house band together to form a co-operative to keep the publishing firm going. They strike a huge profit over those Wild West yarns and suddenly Batala turns up dressed as a priest and demanding the largest piece of the profits. The shy Lange responds out of character and acts like his alter ego Arizona Jim, and shoots the nasty man dead for everyone in the co-operative.

Renoir judiciously mixes in fantasy, politics and romantic adventure with great glee in this fable, as he delights in the choice made in the end by the bar patrons. In the skilled director’s hands, this propaganda piece rises to art.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”