The New Pictures, Nov. 27, 1944

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 2)

In this film, Ball-of-Fat is no longer fat and no longer a prostitute. She is a young laundress (resolutely played by Simone Simon) in a coachload of bourgeois and their wives—natural-born snobs, cowards, ingrates, sycophants and collaborationists, all of them hell-bent for England and security. The one exception is a corrupt, indigent liberal (John Emery) who, for all his patriotic theory, still has everything to learn about patriotism in practice.

When the travelers are delayed at a wayside inn because the laundress refuses to dine in private with the enemy officer, Fifi (Sahara's Nazi airman, Kurt Kreuger, magnificently cast), it is the liberal who tells her, shamefacedly, that her betters are right, that their wholly selfish interests are those of France, to which she must sacrifice her principles.

Next morning, when Fifi boards the coach with the girl, the passengers will not so much as speak to her. Toward the aristocratic lieutenant, however, they behave like true internationalists.

Arrived at her aunt's small-town laundry, the girl finds the companions of her own class as shamefully cooperative with the enemy as the bourgeois pack she left. Rather than deprive her aunt of the Prussian trade and the girls of their jobs, the heroine once more ditches her principles—and once more runs afoul of Fifi and his cold will to degrade, through her, the very soul of her country. This time Fifi overplays his hand.

Maupassant, being an artist, a patriot and a magnanimous man, would almost certainly have saluted this film. He would overlook its shortcomings the more readily if he knew of the circumstances which chiefly explain them. The picture cost about $200,000; it is by far the least expensive costume picture that has been made since sound added so immensely to production costs. It was shot in 22 days. With a little more time, and a little more money, it would very probably have been a first-rate film.

Even as it stands, it makes most of its better-barbered, better-fed competitors look like so many wax dummies in a window. And it adds still more to the mounting credit of Producer Val Lewton and his collaborators (Director Robert Wise, Writers Josef Mischel and Peter Ruric, Cameraman Harry Wild and a half-dozen excellent, little-known players). No other group in Hollywood, it appears, knows how to do so much with so little.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. Next Page