L'homme a l'impermeable/ The Man in the Raincoat. Director: Julien Duvivier, Script: Duvivier and Rene Barjavel from the novel "Tiger by the Tail" by James Hadley Chase. Photo: Roger Hubert, Music: George Van Parys, Editor: Marthe Poncin, France/Italy, 1957. Black and white, 108 minutes.
Cast: Fernandel (Albert Constantin), Bernard Blier (M. Raphael), Jacques Duby (Maurice Langlois), Jean Rigaux (Emile Blondeau), Claude Sylvain (Florence), Judith Magre (Eva), John McGiver (O'Brien), Julien Bertheau (theatre director).
|Fernandel as Don Camillo|
Fernandel was France’s most popular comedian and over the decade of the 50s, when his popularity was at his peak, he appeared in at least forty films. Some were dramas, some were outright comedies and others were a mix. He appears to have had a prodigious work ethic but very little discrimination. Of all the directors with whom he worked, Duvivier may in fact have been his most frequent director but you don’t get an impression that, unlike say, Jean Gabin, he sought out his collaborators and kept them tight. His work was done with some of the best and many quite undistinguished talents.
|Lobby card for The Man in The Raincoat|
Without access to a detailed biography of either Fernandel or Duvivier, it’s difficult to discern the attraction of L’homme a l’impermeable/The Man in the Raincoat which the pair filmed in 1956 for a release in February 1957.For Duvivier it came directly after he had made his best film of the 50s and quite possibly his best post-WW2 film, Voici le temps des assassins, a Simenon-like tale of male obsession and female deviousness, reuniting the director with Gabin, bringing in the luminous young star Daniele Delorme and giving a major part to the young Gerard Blain a short time before he became an emblem of the French New Wave via his work in early films by Truffaut, Godard and Chabrol and went on to Hatari! USA, 1962) for Howard Hawks.
L’homme a l’impermeable/The Man in the Raincoat seems a backward step for anyone other than a jobbing director. Its place in Duvivier's career would now in hindsight be seen as part of a downward trajectory. Part of the reason is undoubtedly the low rent literary material on which the film is based. James Hadley Chase specialised in pulp fiction. There is a list of 20 movies based on his work and among his best known books were the notorious “No Orchids for Miss Blandish”, which has been filmed twice, “Eve” filmed as Eva by Joseph Losey and “The Night of the Generals”, filmed by Anatole Litvak in 1967. Hadley Chase’s novels specialised in what was, in its day, rather perverse material. Losey was especially dismissive of what he had to work with in a project that went way off the rails.
|Lobby card of Fernandel and Blier in The Man in the Raincoat|
Fernandel/Albert has to make his way through a tangle of police investigations, women on the make and an art dealer named O’Brien played by, but not voiced by, the American actor John McGiver. One of O’Brien’s accomplices stands around in the background juggling whatever small objects are to hand. This enables, much much later, a believable gag involving his juggling skills. It’s that sort of movie. Notwithstanding all that the film had over 2.7million admissions in France, nothing special for a Fernandel movie but respectable. MGM acquired the rights and produced what is regarded by those who have seen it as an exceptionally good dubbed version. The film played in Australia and reports have been received of sightings as part of drive-in double bills. The spicy subject matter would have helped its bookings in those locations.
Notwithstanding all this 'success' I’m not sure I can give Duvivier the pass mark I gave to Fernandel.