Arte broadcast last week -for the first time- a brilliant Feyder comedy.
(Gaby Morlay and Albert Préjean near a famous tower)Les Nouveaux Messieurs
(1928, Jacques Feyder) with Gaby Morlay, Albert Préjean and Henry Roussell
This charming comedy pokes fun at parliamentary life during the French Third Republic. Adapting Flers and De Croisset's play, Feyder creates a little masterpiece of understatement. Suzanne Verrier (G. Morlay) is a ballet dancer at the Paris Opera. She is kept in grand style by the Count of Montoire-Granpré (Henry Roussell), a member of parliament, who offers her a limousine with chauffeur. But, the opera chief electrician, Jacques Gaillac (A. Préjean) is secretly in love with her. By a strange reversal of fortune, the government is toppled and new general elections bring Gaillac to power. From union leader, he becomes minister. Then Suzanne has to make a choice between the two men...
Feyder has at his disposal a magician of a set designer: Lazare Meerson. Meerson creates some superb sets in particular Suzanne Verrier's flat which looks ultra-modern with its pure white lines. The building of the CIT union is also a masterpiece showing Art Deco at its best. For the cast, Feyder hesitated for a long time before casting Albert Préjean. Poor Préjean recalls in his memoirs how his friend René Clair told him about the part and to run for it. His first meeting with Feyder was disastrous: "I need an actor, not an acrobat." In fact, Préjean had started his career as a stuntman. He worked with the wolves of Le miracle des loups
(1924, R. Bernard) and he climbs a building with his bare hands in Le fantôme du Moulin-Rouge
(1925, R. Clair). But he had already shown his qualities as comedian in the wonderful Un chapeau de paille d'Italie
(An Italian Straw Hat, 1927) under René Clair. Feyder asked him to shed 8 pounds and he went on starvation diet for a week. He finally got the part after a disastrous screen test when he had to kiss Gaby Morlay. It's also a pleasure to see the wonderful Henry Roussell playing the aristocrat. He is no caricature an never pompous. He draws an elegant and humorous figure who stops at nothing to keep his mistress, though always with great finesse. Gaby Morlay is just a joy to behold. Her career went on from success to success with the arrival of sound. Here, she is a delightful dancer, exhuberant, charming and totally natural. Some of the most charming scenes in the film shows her going for a swim in the Seine river with Préjean. The film predates the poetic realism from the 30s, better known with the Marcel Carné films. Actually, Marcel Carné was Feyder's assistant on Les nouveaux messieurs
and we can guess he drew some inspiration from this film. Funnily enough, the film was banned from the screen for several months. One scene created the fury of the censors: an elderly member of parliament falls asleep in the National Assembly. He dreams that a whole corps de ballet invades parliament with lovely female dancers everywhere. It took an intervention from the actress Mary Marquet (a friend of Françoise Rosay, Mrs Feyder) to lift the ban. This is the first time I had a chance to see the film with some music, so far I had seen it only in silence. The new score created by Antonio Coppola with a small chamber ensemble (Octuor de France) brings charms and dynamism to the proceedings. He follows the plot and the atmosphere perfectly (and it's not always the case!). Overall, my third visit with this lovely film was just as enthusiastic as the previous times. The film remains fresh even after repeated viewing. Just one word about the print. It's supposedly a new print from 2011, but I couldn't see any differences with the previous 1990 print. The image has the same defaults and softness. The film should come out on DVD thanks to Flicker Alley.