(directors: Billy Wilder/Alexander Esway; screenwriters: Billy Wilder/Max Kolpe/H.G. Lustig; cinematographers: Paul Cotteret/Maurice Delattre; editors: Therese Sautereau; music: Franz Waxman/Allan Gray; cast: Danielle Darrieux (Jeannette), Pierre Mingrand (Henri Pasquier), Raymond Galle (Jean-la-Cravate), Paul Escoffier (Le docteur Pasquier), Michel Duran (Le chef ), Jean Wall (Le zebre); Runtime: 77; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Georges Bernier; Kino Video; 1934-France-in French with English subtitles)
Charming early talkie morality lightweight comedy and rarely seen debut film of Billy Wilder.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Mauvaise graine translates as the bad seed. It’s the charming early talkie morality lightweight comedy and rarely seen debut film of Billy Wilder (“Sunset Boulevard”/”Double Indemnity”/”The Lost Weeekend”), that the Austrian expatriate co-directed with Alexander Esway. Wilder was not to direct again until nine years later, when he helmed in Hollywood “The Major and Minor.” Though this crude pic is not on a par with the legendary director’s later great films, it’s diverting, filled with sight gags (like one of the car thieves is a bad driver) and offers a rough look at Wilder’s creative visual style, keen wit and familiar themes of lost innocence or loss of purpose that occupied many of his later great films. It was shot in France while the Jewish filmmaker was waiting to go to Hollywood after escaping from Nazism in Germany, working in Berlin as a screenwriter.It’s cleverly written by Wilder,Max Kolpe and H.G. Lustig, and those car chase scenes and the shots of the now vintage cars like the Hispanos, Studebakers and Buick convertibles cruising around the Paris of the 1930s are a lovely sight to behold.

It tells about a spoiled rich young man named Henri Pasquier(Pierre Mingand) who leaves home when his prominent doctor father (Paul Escoffier) cracks down on the irresponsible spendthrift and takes away his car and cuts off his allowance. The lad is dead set on keeping a date with the lovely lass he just met and steals a car to keep the date. Problem is that he’s spotted by a gang of car thieves, who nab him and take him to their garage Monico chop shop. There he’s enticed into joining the gang.

Our boy Henri befriends the youngest member of the gang, a playful lad named Jean-la-Cravate (Raymond Galle) who obsessively steals ties and has collected 315. The now homeless Henri stays at the home of his new best friend and meets the dreamy teenager Jeannette (Danielle Darrieux), sister of the gang leader, who works for the gang as the bait that lures the gawking male car owners away from their cars so that the gang can easily steal their abandoned parked cars. In the garage the boys do a makeover on the hot cars and then sell them with new license plates.

The dapper Henri thrives on being on his own, but has a falling out with the gang chief (Michel Duran) when he complains the boss takes little risk and gets most of the money while the carjackers take all the risk and get very little. The boss sends Henri to Marseille with a messed up stolen car, and the lad takes Jeannette with him. Ticketed by the police for speeding, the cop spots he’s driving a stolen cat but Henri speeds away. During the chase Henri’s wheel comes off and the car goes into a shallow pond, but the couple escape unhurt. The couple then vow to quit the car ring and be together and decide to take a boat from Marseille to Casablanca, but first Henri returns alone to Paris to try and talk Jean into joining them.

The kid walks into the garage during a police raid, and after escaping has to come crawling back to his father for help.

It’s a coming of age film, that points out that crime doesn’t pay, that criminals can’t be trusted, that there were at the time 300 thousand cars in Paris (with one out of eight Parisians owning a car), that love trumps all other activities and that if you’re young you might still have a chance to straighten out your life if you make a big mistake. Wilder might have been inexperienced when he made this pic, but it’s still a recognizable Wilder pic.