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
, 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
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
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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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