Le Lit à colonnes (1942)



Le Lit a colonnes photo
In 1880, the warders and inmates at a French prison are equally afraid of Clément Porey-Cave, an implacable prison governor. Porey-Cave even intimidates his wife Madeleine and loves only his daughter, Marie-Dorée. In town, he has a mistress called Yada, the star of the show at the Grand Café where all the notables of the district congregate. Although Yada appears devoted to Porey-Cave, she is actually in love with Jacques, a talented violinist. When he learns that one of his prisoners, Rémy Bonvent, writes music, Porey-Cave decides to make use of his talents. He puts him in a cell by himself and gives him paper and ink. Bonvent begins to write an opera entitled Le lit à colonnes, inspired by his secret passion for Marie-Dorée. One evening, Porey-Cave shows Yada and Jacques some of the music which Bonvent has composed and pretends that he is the author. As Porey-Cave prepares to stage the opera, he doesn't know that one of his warders has told Bonvent that he has stolen his work...
© Willems Henri (Brussels, Belgium)

Film Review

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Having worked as a production manager on several films, including Jean Renoir's La Bête humaine (1938) and Jean Grémillon's Remorques (1941), Roland Tual made a tentative directing debut with this tepid melodrama, based on a novel by Louise de Vilmorin. Tual would direct only two films after this before his untimely death in 1956, and whilst Le Lit à colonnes is a fairly engaging period piece it is unlikely to merit more than the briefest of mentions in any guide to French cinema, despite its impressive cast and the fact it was scripted by the great Charles Spaak.

On the plus side, the film is supremely well cast, with Fernand Ledoux an excellent choice for the part of the dour, self-interested prison governor Porey-Cave. Ledoux succeeds in humanising what is a pretty loathsome specimen of humanity, and the fact that we end up pitying him is a testament to the depth of his portrayal. Odette Joyeux has never looked more radiant than she does here, shining with a dazzling ethereal beauty in the grimmest and most oppressive of settings. Renowned for playing likeable everyman characters who are a model of virtue, Pierre Larquey is equally well suited for the part of the sympathetic warder Dix-Doigts, next to whom Ledoux can hardly help looking like an outright villain. Jean Marais is less convincing as the musically gifted Bonvent - his fey, mannered performance is one that would be far better suited for the stage. But, with strong support from Valentine Tessier, Mila Parély, Jean Tissier and Georges Marchal (impressive in his first credited screen role), there is not much else to fault on the acting front.

With such a distinguished cast it is surprising that Le Lit à colonnes isn't an out and out classic. The reason why the film fails to leave much of a lasting impression is pretty self-evident - there is no real flair or enthusiasm in the mise-en-scène or writing. Opportunities for dramatic tension are neglected, the middle section of the film drags painfully, and the dramatic ending is muted to the point of mundanity. The evident skill on the acting and design fronts are sorely undermined by the film's poor pacing and an obvious lack of focus. Le Lit à colonnes is certainly watchable, thanks to the quality of the acting, but it is a shadow of what it might have been, had it been placed in the hands of a more committed and experienced film director.
The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.

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