The Pearls of the Crown (1937)

DVD liner notes claim this was Guitry’s eighth film but his second written specifically for the screen; whatever prejudices he himself may have had about cinema as “conserved theatre”, this should pretty much dispel similar prejudices other critics have levelled at his own films over the decades, cos I’ll be damned if I can imagine this working on stage… This is the story of seven pearls across four centuries, four of which ended up in the crown of England and three that, frankly, didn’t. I suspect it’s doubtful as history, but it’s quite pleasing as somewhat comic historical spectacle… As with Story of a Cheat, the trick is not so much the story as the telling of it, although in this case there are (kind of) three narrators rather than one. The story is in two parts, with the first part variously told by a French writer to his wife, a royal equerry to the king of England, and an Italian chamberlain to the pope; in this one, Pope Clement VII sends a man on a quest to find five pearls (an adventure that encompasses a visit of doubtful racial sensitivity to the Queen of Sheba, as well as a remarkably lively statue of the Virgin Mary), which are combined with two others in a necklace for Catherine de Medici, which is ultimately stolen and broke up, with four recovered pearls being added to the crown. In the second half, our heroes unite to find out where the other three went. It’s apparently been criticised for being a string of vignettes (much like the original string of pearls) rather than a cohesive narrative, and that’s not an unfair characterisation, but Guitry pulls it off with sufficient charm and style to make that objection fairly easy to ignore. I don’t know yet, obviously, what the other two films in the Guitry box are like, but the first two have been worth the money so far…

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