Two screenwriting partners, always quarrelsome, sometimes vehemently contentious, are collaborating on another script, for which their sharp secretary has given a title amenable to everyone: La fête à Henriette. Young and lithe, Henriette (Dany Robin, enchanting) plans on spending July 14—Bastille Day—in Paris with fiancé Robert, a photojournalist; but Robert’s assignment to cover sensuous, flirtatious Rita Solar (Hildegarde Knef, no less), a circus equestrian, at the last minute uproots these plans, sending jealous Henriette into the arms of a stranger, alternatively Marcel or Maurice, and a series of misadventures. As the scenarists go back and forth, one promoting melodrama and sex, the other promoting romance, we “see” the narrative, as though it were unreeling in real time, shift course and shape until Henriette and Robert are reunited for the night’s celebratory fireworks.
Written by Henri Jeanson and the director, Julien Duvivier’s film, which is coincidentally also titled La fête à Henriette, tiresomely and cheaply dazzles with its rather desperate postmodern antics, which hit upon an all-time low with the supposedly funny attempted rape of the heroine. Well, after all, it’s just a movie; but, because we see it as just as “real” as the scenes in which the writers are writing it and everything else, the near-rape is odiously manic. There are a dusting of clever, biting lines of dialogue, comicai chases, at least one of which generates some excitement, and the satirizing of different cinematic styles (portentous Third Man-camera angles, for instance); but the whole enterprise beats a dead horse. If you love the movies, see instead René Clair’s marvelous 1933 Quatorze Juillet, with its prewar Bastiiie Day, social analysis, and haunting romance, or another 1952 film, Fritz Lang’s Rancho Notorious, with its far more complex and thrilling relationship between narrative and imagery. There are no feelings of any depth in Duvivier’s strenuous film—so, please, cut the crap if you are such a crapper as to claim that the Duvivier measures up to the nouvelle vague up ahead.