La chienne (1931)

I was interested to see this one, since it was the source of Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street. Indeed, the latter turns out to have actually been quite a faithful remake (except in one kind of important aspect that I’ll get to); as in Lang’s film, we have the middle-aged bank cashier (Michel Simon) who paints in his spare time, the ghastly wife who keeps comparing him unfavourably to her deceased first husband, plus the younger woman he rescues one night from her pimp (it should be said Renoir is far blunter in 1931 than Lang probably could’ve been in 1945 about their relationship), and the same way that things (d)evolve from there… I specifically mentioned the getting-away-with-murder climax in my review of Scarlet Street, and lo, it’s present and correct here too (though somehow it’s not as surprising that Renoir got away with this ending in France in 1931 as it is that Lang did in Hollywood 14 years later). But there’s one extra detail in the original: the deceased husband turns out to still be alive. This adds a slightly strange dimension of comedy to the otherwise serious proceedings, and most notably changes the character of the ending. I’m not sure it really works, and maybe Lang was right to excise it. Maybe not. At any rate, it feels additionally uneasy given the production was surrounded by a genuine tragedy, i.e. the death of female star Janie Marèse in a car accident, apparently en route to the film’s premiere, with the car being driven by co-star Georges Flamant (who was apparently a professional crook before taking up acting—this was his debut and he later shows up in The 400 Blows—and he brings a remarkable edge of sleaziness to the character of Dédé the pimp)… It’s good, though I wouldn’t say it’s 100% successful (it suffers from early talkie stiffness despite some nice effort by Renoir), and I can’t quite decide between this and the Lang remake. I think Renoir might just have the edge, though.

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