Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Do you remember where you were when you first heard The Beatles or The Sex Pistols? How about when JFK was shot? The moon landing? The day you realized Sarah Palin really could become President? Well, I recently had one of those moments when everything changes. I discovered Fernandel.
Fernandel was a hugely popular French screen comic of the 1930s and '40s, but--perhaps due to the fact that he looked like the result of a midnight tryst between Rondo Hatton and a horse--he remains virtually unknown to Anglophone film fans. In fact, other than a thankless cameo in Michael Todd's bloated Around the World in 80 Days and Paris Holiday, a lame Bob Hope film no-one's ever seen, Fernandel never made an English-language film.
Turner Classic Movies recently aired Le Schpountz, one of five films the actor made with director Marcel Pagnol, and it's a revelation. Fernandel plays Irenee Fabre, a backwoods son of a shopkeeper whose dreams of cinema stardom apparently come to fruition when a film crew needs to borrow a saucepan from the family store. Bored and in need of distraction, the crew sign Irenee to a blatantly phony contract (he gets a bonus for performing in temperatures above 45 Celsius, or if he develops leprosy whilst working on their film)--but their clueless mark takes it absolutely seriously, and is soon wreaking havoc on the back-lots of a Parisian studio.
It's a delightful film, but it wouldn't be anything special without Fernandel, who seems almost as adept at straight drama as at broad comedy. More, please, TCM!
- ▼ 2010 (11)