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Good shot: Keystone Cops stalling their 1913 Ford (it cost $1,350 in 1939) on a railroad crossing with the train coming. When they puff, push and crank, but the car will not budge, the cops throw themselves in a ditch, cover their eyes and ears. With the train a foot away, the Ford starts by itself, rolls gracefully off the track.
Harvest (French Cinema Center). Halfway down the aisles last week fans were standing, many of them to see: 1) why the New York State Board of Motion Picture Censors had banned this picture; 2) why the Board of Regents had then lifted the ban without cutting a foot of the film. Answer to Question No. 1: The main characters are common-law man & wife. Answer to Question No. 2: In spite of this unHollywooden realism, the picture is as conservative as a marriage license and just about as exciting. People who came for a peep-show had a boring 80 minutes. Others saw one of the finest French films to reach the U. S. this year.
Based on a Jean Giono novel of peasant life, this unarty picture told with great art the story of a primitive man and woman, of their growth in relation to each other, to the barren soil they make yield, to the deserted village they make live again. Like growth, which was its theme, the picture was slow-moving; like growth, it looked simple and obvious; like growth, it was not. Speech was almost out of place in this account of manual people who, in their need to save their energy for work, have created a pantomime that can express violence, contempt, pity, by a shrug, a grunt, or just by silence. Even the actors seemed to have no special importance when an old stone wall, a tree, a cloud were almost as much a part of the cast, where a big round loaf of peasant bread was a climax.
Hulking, hairy Peasant Panturle (Gabriel Gabrio), last survivor of the ghost village of Aubignane, has reverted to skulking savagery. Up & down the lonely mountain roads go a knife grinder, Gedemus (Fernandel) and the girl who pulls his cart, Arsule (Orane Demazis). When Arsule is missing one morning, jittery Gedemus decides she has been murdered, runs away. But Panturle has found her, taken her to live with him. She restores his home, he restores the fields, both restore the village. Later, when Gedemus claims the girl, Panturle buys Arsule from him for the price of a donkey. While he is seeding wheat with her after this bargain, Arsule stumbles; Panturle learns she is pregnant. Against the backdrop of Europe's war-wrecked villages, this parable of the restoration of a village, the basic unit of Europe's civilization, through a peasant's labor and love, had some of the primitive Biblical grandeur of the story of Creation. In a French jail meantime sat the man who wrote the parable, Author Jean Gionofor refusing to obey the mobilization order.
* Salaries for Keystone Cops in 1913 ranged between $60 and $125. In 1939 Cops got $550 a week, were one of the highest priced police forces in the world.