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FRENCH CANCAN (aka: ONLY THE FRENCH CAN) (director/writer: Jean Renoir; screenwriter: from an idea by André-Paul Antoine; cinematographer: Michel Kelber; editor: Borys Lewyn; music: George van Parys; cast: Jean Gabin(Henri ‘Zizi’ Danglard),Françoise Arnoul (Nini),Maria Félix (La Belle Abbesse),Gianni Esposito (The Prince),Philippe Clay(Casimir),Michel Piccoli (Valorgueil),Anna Amendola (Esther Georges), Edith Piaf(Singer),Patachou (singer), Dora Doll(La Genisse),Gaston Gabaroche (Oscar, pianist), Madame Paquerette(Mimi Prunelle), Lydia Johnson (Madame Guibole), Franco Pastorino(Paulo), Jean-Roger Caussimon (Baron Walter), Albert Remy (Barjolin); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Louis Wipf; Gaumont-PAL DVD format; 1954-France-in French with English subtitles)

“Nostalgic studio-bound Hollywood-like splashy pic about the beginnings of the Moulin Rouge.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Marks the successful return of French director Jean Renoir (“Boudu Saved From Drowning”/”Madame Bovary”/”The Grand Illusion”)to France after fifteen years in Hollywood with this nostalgic studio-bound Hollywood-like splashy pic about the beginnings of the Moulin Rouge in the 1880s in Paris and offers a backstage melodramatic story of the training of the high-kicking, knickerbocker clad cancan dancers and the bold impresario Henri ‘Zizi’ Danglard (Jean Gabin) struggling to get the show produced. Renoir adapts it from an idea by André-Paul Antoine. Despite being dramatically thin, artificially created, not particularly factual, conventionally formulaic, filled with dead-spots throughout and confectionery lite, the eye-catching lushly photographed musical comedy evokes a wonderful vision of a long-gone Paris, seems authentic even if it isn’t, its colorful characters are likable, its evocation of the French Impressionists (like Jean’s father) bring back good memories, its good-natured spirit is catching and it builds to a rousing climax of the energetic cancan number in the newly built Moulin Rouge in Montmartre. That scene is the highlight of the movie and makes it worth seeing, even if the rest of the film is not that special.

Struggling night clubimpresario Henri ‘Zizi’ Danglard ditches his fiery exotic belly-dancer club star Lola (Maria Félix, Mexican artist) to mentor the naive young laundress Nini (Françoise Arnoul) to dance the cancan and be his lover. Nini’s hard-working baker boyfriend Paolo (Franco Pastorino), pictured as an oaf, can’t accept his girl as a performer, while Lola reacts violently to Zizi’s rebuff and finds solace in the arms of wealthy businessman and club backer Baron Walter ( Jean-Roger Caussimon). The hackneyed story has a wealthy foreign prince (Gianni Esposito) acting like a cornball and backing the Moulin Rouge because he fell madly in love with Nini. She doesn’t love him, but he still gives the deed to the Moulin Rouge to Zizi after failing to commit suicide and then conveniently returns to his homeland. Meanwhile Madame Guibole (Lydia Johnson) teaches the girls how to dance the cancan the French way, and Zizi teaches Nini to love being a trouper and not worry that he will always be a showman chasing after the next beauty he can groom to be a star.

It’s not one of Renoir’s great films, but it’s enjoyably filled with dash, humanity and dazzling visuals.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”