La Rose rouge (1951)

aka: The Red Rose
Comedy / Musical


La Rose rouge photo
La Rose Rouge, one of the most popular night spots in the Saint-Germain-des-prés district of Paris, has a crisis on its hands when the famous Frères Jacques fail to honour an engagement. Albert, the nightclub's manager, has his work cut out trying to organise an alternative entertainment. Luckily he can call on the services of movie star Evelyne Dorsey, who is ready to help out as she looks for a partner in her next film...
© 2015

Film Review

Film poster
For three decades, Les Frères Jacques was one of France's most popular troupes, their songs as famous as the comedy routines which they performed to packed houses in music halls and nightclubs. The musical quartet could easily have had a screen career as successful as that of the Marx Brothers if they wished it, but after appearing in two lacklustre films they turned their back on cinema and stuck to what they did best, giving live performances to an adoring audience. Their screen debut was in La Rose rouge, directed by Marcello Pagliero, a fading Italian heartthrob-turned filmmaker who was closely associated with the neo-realist movement immediately after the war. Despite being a pretty plotless affair. almost totally lacking in structure and coherence, this film did make good use of the Frères Jacques' talents, which is more than can be said for their next film, Jean Boyer's justly forgotten Italian comedy Il paese dei campanelli (1954).

La Rose rouge has no shortage of talent in front of the camera, but behind the camera there seems to be a distinct lack of skill and organisation. The film's authors are brazenly aware of this and even make a joke of it. Feeling his talents are being ill-used, a justifiably miffed Yves Robert storms through the "fourth wall" and promptly gets into a heated argument with the director and his writer, who are happily getting sloshed in a bistro whilst the film falls apart in their absence. This weird metacinematic digression is just about the cleverest thing the film has to offer, and it hardly makes up for the absence of a plot and the clumsy way the film is thrown together.

Messy and uneven as the film is, it somehow manages to avoid being a complete disaster and for the most part it is highly enjoyable - a chaotic series of sketches and musical numbers that evoke the spirit of the French music hall in its golden era. The highlight is the musical centrepiece in which the Frères Jacques do their stuff and show why they were so popular, but in addition to this there is plenty to laugh at on the periphery. Louis de Funès, just beginning to emerge as a great comic performer, is hilarious in a few scenes where he plays a fanatical poet who apparently eats glass - you can't help wondering why Pagliero didn't give him a bigger role (he was probably too busy getting sloshed in a nearby bistro).

Rising star Françoise Arnoul is treated even more disgracefully - all she is required to do is to look pretty as she walks about in her underwear. The only member of the cast who is well-served by the film is leading lady Dora Doll. The buxom blonde par excellence, Doll was at her best in noir thrillers such as Jacques Becker's Touchez pas au grisbi (1954) but she was also an adept comedy performer, as this film amply demonstrates. Doll's attempts to find a Don José to play opposite her Carmen in her next film provide La Rose rouge with its funniest moments and make everything else - even the presence of Les Frères Jacques - pretty superfluous.
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