La Maternelle (Photosonor). Made in Paris two years ago and now exhibited in the U. S. for the first time, this amazing little study of school teachers and school children in the slums of Paris has been generally recognized abroad as one of the authentic masterpieces of the contemporary cinema. Superficially, it is the story of Rose, the school housemaid (Madeleine Renaud) whose intuitive sympathy for the inmates brings her to the favorable attention of the government doctor, and of Marie (Paulette Elambert), woe-begone little daughter of a Montmartre prostitute, who chooses Rose as her protector when her mother runs away. Essentially, it is not a story at all but a series of small panels depicting the daily life of the moppets and their guardians.
Among these are a "psychological experiment" in which the children are allowed to make friends with a white rabbit, then informed that he will be cooked for their lunch; a pageant, in which the morose urchin selected to act as king has to have fleas combed out of his hair lest he upset his crown by scratching; Marie's effort to commit suicide when, after seeing Rose leave with the doctor, she thinks herself abandoned again.
The qualities of simplicity and tenderness, in which the best French pictures have so often outclassed Hollywood, give these little scenes a dramatic impact which, by comparison, makes the collapse of Pompeii (see p. 52) a pin drop. Good shot: in the ring of faces around the white rabbit, a minute, snub-nosed Negro, speechless with approval.
Madeleine Renaud, member of the Comédie Franç, whose performance in Maria Chapdelaine (TIME, Oct. 7) brought her to the attention of U. S. cinemaddicts, was responsible for the sensible suggestion that the adults in La Maternelle should wear no makeup. Otherwise, credit for dialog, direction and, to a large extent, photography goes to Jean Benoit-Lévy, who adapted the picture from Léon Frapié's novel. Son of a toy manufacturer, bespectacled, 47, Director Benoit-Lévy, whose Itto, dealing with Moroccan revolution, is the current cinema sensation in France, selected his cast from slum children who had never acted or even learned to recite. Paulette Elambert, a rather ugly little girl with a big mouth and sad intense eyes, hopes to grow up to be a confectioner.
In his capacity as Secretary of Educational Cinema, Director Benoit-Lévy was last week lecturing at Columbia University on the "Social Rôle of a Motion Picture Director."
The Last Days of Pompeii (RKO). The connection between this picture and Baron Bulwer-Lytton's famed novel begins and ends with the title. It is a massive melodrama relating in epic terms the life history of an Augustan prizefighter, ancient in its settings but modern in its methods, and equipped with everything from the Crucifixion to a holdup.