Monday 16 January 2017

The Duvivier Dossier (53) - Barrie Pattison retrieves LE PAQUEBOT TENACITY (France, 1934)

Watching the 1934 Le paquebot Tenacity to round out Film Alert’s Julien Duvivier dossier, I got an abrupt reminder of the skills that the director (and the top level French cinema of the thirties) commanded and which were lost in Duvivier’s later work.

The story is slight but the two stars, Albert Préjean (Chapeau de Paille d’Italie) and Marie Glory (L’argent), performing with a twisted ankle, are coaxed into unusually animated performances. Prejean was doing the first film in which he had sustained speeches, which was a strain for him and he got no help from an irritated Duvivier who was dissatisfied with the film. These were not names to attract international attention. The piece may never have been English sub-titled, leaving it without nostalgia value and hard to find.

Albert Prejean
The plot has friends Préjean and Hubert Prélier, fuelled by synthetic travel films in a sweaty cinema, resolve to quit their city jobs working in a movie studio and set out for Canada with its prairies and eskimoes. They book on the S.S. Tenacity and are farewelled at the station by their mothers.

Our heroes arrive in Le Havre (studio track along the street where the only businesses are rooms to rent and money lending) and find the sailing delayed. Préjean is thrown off the ship's bridge when he investigates. The pair are guided by sympathetic porter Pierre Laurel to Mady Berry’s hotel where Glory waits tables. Albert does well with the bar girls down the street, getting taken up stairs.

Marie Glory
The ship starts out but has to turn back and the friends get jobs round town while they wait, Préjean carrying ice and Prélier driving a crane where he injures his hand. He goes on a fuzzy edged picnic with Glory but it’s Albert who gets her drunk on champagne and stretched out on the beach - shot of their legs manoeuvring side by side on the water’s edge. Préjean tries to negotiate a passage for her on the ship but they instead return to the city together, leaving Prélier alone in the crowded bunk beds of the Tenacity as it finally sails.

The waterfront material with its dockside machinery and moored ships makes an interesting comparison with Gremillon’s maritime films.

It is the busy texture which makes Le paquebot Tenacity memorable - extraordinarily alive. What’s shown constantly changes - day and night, rain, (“C’est triste la pluie sur la porte”), fog at dawn. There’s a rapid montage of the launch with Préjean and Glory touring ships at anchor. The mobile camera passes through walls and characters dance or burst into song that black sailors passing the bar join in till it spreads through the street. The passage of time is chairs inverted on the table going to them standing on the floor. The ship’s pistons starting to pump are cut to a giant Pacific class locomotive setting out.

Editor's Note: It has been some little time since the previous Duvivier Dossier entry was posted. There still remain a number of films to be reported upon and for other work to be done. The thought is to gather it all together into an E-Book during the coming months. In the meantime you can track down the earlier posts if you put Duvivier's name into the box on the top left of the page. 

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