For Reel

Folies Bergère de Paris (1935)
March 16, 2016, 9:34 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Roy Del Ruth
3.5 Stars
Folies Bergère de ParisThat this Hollywood musical took its name from the famed cabaret music hall in Paris suggested to audiences that they were about to see something unusually risqué. After all, Hollywood films often portrayed Parisians as both sophisticated and over-sexed, with Maurice Chevalier serving as the prime example of a French womanizer throughout the late 1920s and early 1930s for directors like Ernst Lubitsch. The picture doesn’t take as many risks as one would like, nor does it pack quite the same caliber of innuendo as a Lubitsch picture, but the mistaken identity plot allows for some playful dalliances with the topic of affairs. If the romantic comedy elements are fairly typical for the time, the musical numbers are unusually terrific–rivaling the best of Busby Berkeley with the ambitious geometric patterns and the increasingly surreal sets (culminating in a dance number wrought around enormous versions of Chevalier’s famed straw hat). The early “Rhythm in the Rain” number is a predecessor of Gene Kelly splashing around in street puddles, and director Roy Del Ruth and choreographer Dave Gould use an unusual split screen device that sees one half of the frame in thunderstorm, the other bathed in sunshine. These early numbers cleverly drift between various modes of address–shots of a theater audience are intercut with shots of Chevalier addressing them, and meanwhile there is a play with more “cinematic” images in which the scale far exceeds what could be performed on a typical stage. This is not so much a problem with continuity as it is a celebration of how intoxicating the art of theater is, where the limited scale of the stage gives way into a boundless world of imagination.

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