Wednesday 7 October 2015

The Duvivier Dossier (25) - A Note about the Hakims

Robert and Raymond Hakim produced three of Julien Duvivier’s films. Their reputation as producers is a little up and down. I first noticed this when I did some notes on Joseph Losey’s Eva (France/Italy, 1962) which were included as a booklet with the Australian release of the film on DVD by Madman. Losey had vilified the Hakims unmercifully after his film was continually cut and re-cut by the producers following unsuccessful previews.

The Hakims made three films with Duvivier as director, strung out over a quarter of a century. The first of them Pepe le Moko (France, 1937) was one of the director’s, and producers’, greatest successes. In a short online note  about the Hakims, John Baxter says: After working for Paramount in Paris, the Egypt-born Hakim brothers became independent producers in 1934, financing Duvivier's Pépé le Moko and Renoir's La Bête Humaine. These sensational and discreetly salacious films by directors who, though well-established, were slightly out of the mainstream, established a strategy that would help the Hakims survive French cinema's most disastrous decades.

Over the years the Hakims made a success of producing some of the major European movies of the day. They also relocated to America for awhile and produced Renoir’s The Southerner  and a remake of their production of Carne’s Le Jour se Leve, The Long Night (Anatole Litvak). They produced two of Antonioni’s greatest films L’Aventurra and L’Eclisse  and three of Claude Chabrol’s early New Wave movies.

Pot-Bouille (France, 1957) is an adaptation of Zola’s novel of the same name. (Duvivier had in 1930 adapted the author’s Au Bonheur des Dames.) In many ways it represents a peak moment in the cinema de papa of the day. Meticulously filmed almost entirely on gleaming and somewhat inauthentic studio sets, everything glistens, everything is polished including the telephoned in performance of Gerard Philippe in the lead. It was the sort of film that no doubt had the young men of the New Wave gnashing their teeth in frustration. (Of course only a few years before Duvivier made his best film of the 50s, the Simenon-like twisting tale of betrayal, male guilt and amour fou, Voici Le Temps des Assassins.)

Finally there is Chair de Poule (France, 1963), an adaptation of James M Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice”, a book already filmed by Tay Garnett and, without authorization, by Luchino Visconti. John Baxter sums up the Hakims’ approach at this time Throughout the 1960s, the Hakims seldom deviated from the style of film successful for them in the 1930s: star-driven melodramas with plenty of sex, and an international market built in. The recipe that launched Simone Signoret in Casque d'or proved equally serviceable for Alain Delon in René Clément's Plein Soleil , Roger Vadim's remake of La Ronde , Luis Buñuel's Belle de jour and Karel Reisz's Isadora . All shrewdly exploited the European cinema's reputation for sophisticated sensuality without surrendering totally to the mass market.  

Baxter doesn’t even mention Chair de Poule, possibly the most unprepossessing movie made by the brothers during this late period of their, and the director’s, work.

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