Having worked as a production manager on several films, including Jean
Renoir's La Bête humaine
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
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
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.
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