Drôle de drame (1937)
Drôle de drame (1937)
Director: Marcel Carné
Cast: Louis Jouvet, Françoise Rosay, Michel Simon
Synopsis: A little white lie grows out of all proportion to the circumstances that gave rise to it.
There really should be a limit placed on the length of a farce as even one as deliciously offbeat as Marcel Carne’s Drole de drame begins to outlive its welcome somewhere around the hour mark. By then we have been treated to so much surreal, preposterous and quirky fantasies masquerading as a stone-faced murder story (without a victim) that it all becomes a little overwhelming. The plot spirals out of control with sublime precision, but it’s like a twirling lariat that catches you up the side of the head every time it passes.
Michel Simon (Le passion de Jeanne d’Arc, Le quai des brumes) plays the mild-mannered Irwin Molyneux, a keen amateur gardener who writes lurid crime novels in order to keep his socialite wife, Margaret, (Francoise Rosay), in the lifestyle to which she is determined to become accustomed. They both live in a constant state of low-key terror that her cousin, the reverend Archibald Soper (Louis Jouvet), who campaigns vociferously against such novels, will one day uncover their secret and that the resulting scandal will see them written out of the will of Margaret’s dotty old aunt. Soper invites himself for dinner on the very day that Margaret’s antagonistic ways see her kitchen staff walk out in protest, meaning she is forced to cook the dinner herself. Unable to both cook and act as hostess, she instructs her husband to inform Soper that she has gone to the country to visit friends. Unfortunately, it is a white lie that is to have unforeseen repercussions.
That synopsis doesn’t even begin to adequately describe all that is going on in Drole de drame. In addition to the characters above, there’s a serial killer named William Kramps (Jean-Louis Barrault) who only targets butchers because they kill animals but who is prepared to make an exception for poor Molyneux, whose novels he believes led him on a path of crime. While Kramps eventually becomes enamoured of Margaret, another character named Billy, the Milkman (Jean-Pierre Aumont – The Devil at 4 O’Clock), is so in love with the Molyneux’s young housemistress, Eva (Nadine Vogel) that the kitchen is over-running with bottles of milk. And so it goes on, with the paths of this large cast of eccentric characters crossing in unexpected ways as the plot weaves a tortuous path to its conclusion.
It’s fun of a sort; the strong cast is a delight to watch and the writing is consistently inventive, but a farce is a farce, and eventually it all begins to wear a little thin.
(Reviewed 19th April 2015)