DRÔLE DE DRAME (Marcel Carné, 1937)

The French team of scenarist Jacques Prévert and director Marcel Carné is celebrated for their poetic realism in moody, fatalistic works and for the tragic enchantment of their period romances. However, the Leftist pair also created a zany, brilliantly funny comedy. Drôle de drame ou L’étrange aventure du Docteur Molyneux is the complete title of the film known in the States as Bizarre, Bizarre. From the 1912 novel His First Offence by Scotland’s J. Storer Clouston, the film is set in either very late Victorian or very early Edwardian London—about 1900. This small point of indeterminacy correlates to a motif of false identity and deceptive appearances; although he is a horticulturist, Irwin Molyneux (Michel Simon, wonderful) expands his income as a crime novelist under the nom de plume of Felix Chapel. Keeping up social appearances after the cook and another servant have bolted, with wife Margaret (Françoise Rosay, also wonderful) hiding away in the kitchen preparing the duck while pretending to be out of town, Irwin hosts a meal for a self-invited guest, Archibald (Louis Jouvet, perfect). Unfortunately, this cousin, a vicar, because Margaret seems missing intuits that Irwin must have murdered her. Scotland Yard investigates!
     The film opens in a deliberately stagy setting, with the vicar denouncing Chapel for encouraging murder with his books. The audience includes Chapel/Molyneux and, because the vicar has a point, William Kramps (Jean-Louis Barrault, perhaps stealing the show), a serial murderer of butchers who, blaming the dire influence of Chapel, plans on killing him next. (While both are hiding away, William woos Margaret.) The vicar’s sparsely attended denunciation, which pits fuddy-duddy religiosity against popular culture, contrasts with the throngs of humanity flooding the street in response to the vicar’s allegations. A Brechtian air fills indoors and out-.

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