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ELUSIVE CORPORAL, THE (LE CAPORAL EPINGLE) (director/writer: Jean Renoir; screenwriters: Guy Lefranc/based on the novel by Jacques Perret; cinematographer: Georges Leclerc; editor: Renee Lichtig; music: Joseph Kosma; cast: Jean-Pierre Cassel (The Corporal), Claude Brasseur (“Pop”), Claude Rich (Ballochet), OE Hasse (The Drunken Traveler), Jean Carmet (Guillaume), Mario David (Caruso), Jacques Jouanneau (“Penche A Gauche”), Conny Forboess (Erika), Guy Bedos (The Stutterer); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: J.W. Beyer; Liomsgate; 1962-France-in French with English subtitles)
Follows along the lines of the director’s The Grand Illusion, but without that film’s depth.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jean Renoir (“La Marseillaise”/This Land is Mine”/”The Southerner”)directs the comical war drama he co-wrote withGuy Lefranc. It’s based on the novel by Jacques Perret. It follows along the lines of the director’s The Grand Illusion (1938), but without that film’s depth.The slight film gives Renoir a chance to demonstrate his humanism, even making the German’s seem less brutish.

During the German invasion of France in 1940 a charming upper-class corporal (Jean-Pierre Cassel) from Paris and his working-class best friend fellow soldiers also from Paris, Pop (Claude Brasseur) and Ballochet (Claude Rich), are taken as prisoners of war to a work detention camp in Germany. The corporal tries a few daring escapes with the older Pop and with another prisoner, but the escapees always get caught before crossing the French border. The Corporal also receives help from the diverse group of POWs in his camp, that include a morose rural farmer (Jean Carmet), a likable Parisian waiter (Jacques Jouanneau), and a stutterer (Guy Bedos).

The Corporal strikes up a sudden romantic relationship with a pretty French-speaking dental assistant named Erika (Conny Forboess), whose mother is a German dentist. Erika provides civilian clothes for the Corporal and his two buddies to escape. One of the escapees is captured by the German secret police, but the Corporal and Pop escape by train. When the escapees are detained because of no ID cards during a search, the train is bombed in an air attack and they escape unharmed through the border farm fields. When safe in Paris, the Corporal and Pop stand on a bridge taking in the good and bad smells of the Seine. There they say goodbye, as they confirm their friendship (despite class and age differences) and their need to continue fighting for freedom with the resistance against the Nazis. The concluding shot on the bridge is memorable for so poetically depicting the values of loyalty, friendship and freedom. It gives the film the raw power it didn’t have previously.

The film was shot on the cheap in Austria, and became a box-office hit.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”