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Home Vision Entertainment presents
Drôle de Drame (1937)

"Please give me a pen and a piece of paper. I want to draw up a will. My relatives are disgusting. I want to disinherit them. As they are more or less killing each other, why wait? "
- Aunt Annabel MacPhearson (Jeanne Lory)

Review By: Joy Howe and Mark Zimmer  
Published: November 26, 2003

Stars: Françoise Rosay, Michel Simon, Louis Jouvet, Jean-Louis Barrault
Other Stars: Jean-Pierre Aumont, Pierre Alcover
Director: Marcel Carné

Manufacturer: Ascent Media
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (brief nudity, black comedy)
Run Time: 01h:38m:43s
Release Date: April 29, 2003
UPC: 037429175422
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-BC- D

DVD Review

Oh what a funny farce we fetch when we lie and hide and kvetch, to twist an aphorism from Robert Burns. Well, that may not quite capture it either, but then it IS hard to capture comedy on paper. This little gem from 1937 is utterly delightful, and provides a quick review of your forgotten schoolbook French. Or, if you have no schoolbook French, it's not a problem; there are very good subtitles.

The movie opens on a street corner in London, about 1900, and the public meeting of a Ladies' Virtue Society, where the Bishop of Bedford, the Reverend Archibald Soper (Louis Jouvet), is speaking against the evils of tawdry literature. The banner behind him states "Detective Novel Readers are Future Murderers." Jouvet, the famed French stage actor, cuts a fine figure as a stern and bombastic preacher. His example of the very worst novels is called "The Perfect Crime," by the wicked writer Felix Chapel. It is obvious that Chapel is deeply shamed by his own writings; he has made no public appearances and not even his publisher has ever met him. During this tirade, in walks Irwin Molyneux (Michel Simon), an awkward and retiring botanist, fan of mimosas, and obliged to listen to the Bishop, his cousin. Also in attendance is his wealthy old aunt, Annabel MacPhearson (Jeanne Lory),a bit forgetful, and dismissive of her foolish nephew Irwin.

A fellow attendee, William Kramps (Jean-Louis Barrault), suddenly announces to all that he himself has become a murderer due to the wicked novels of the dreaded Felix Chapel. He spins around to leave, and the romp's begun. In the ensuing scenes, we see all manner of attempts to hide the identity of Felix Chapel, hide Irwin's wife, hide actually naughty literature, arrest or lynch murderers who did not actually murder anyone, and on and on.

This story is an adaptation of His First Offence by Joseph Storer Clouston. The film is directed by the famed Marcel Carné; the screen play was wriiten by Jacques Prévert. Although it has a stellar cast, it was apparently considered too farcical to become immediately popular. While the cast is not familiar to American audiences, the actors themselves were huge stars in France and continued so for decades. Michel Simon, the nebbishe botany professor, is delightful and plays his hesitant and hen-pecked character to perfection. He stutters and stammers and dissembles, and goes on about his mimosa and carnivorous plant conservatory. Françoise Rosay is picture-perfect as the conniving and stilted wife, who will go to almost any personal inconvenience to ensure that she can live a respectable and prosperous life. Rosay was also a highly acclaimed actor in French cinema and has a huge list of starring films that spans decades. Louis Jouvet is my favorite, again a hugely respected French stage actor and director in his time. He plays the pompous and sharply inquisitive character of the Bishop marvelously, with rolling eyes, exquisite diction, and carefully nuanced emotional breadth. He makes simply remarkable use of his body and face, to an extent rarely seen these days.

This is a true farce, as Dictionary.com says: "A light dramatic work in which highly improbable plot situations, exaggerated characters, and often slapstick elements are used for humorous effect.". The pace increases after the first hilarious 20 minutes or so, setting up the rationale for the comedy of misunderstandings that follows. There is less slapstick perhaps than American audiences are used to, but there are sight gags aplenty. One of the greatest pleasures in this movie is the excellent use of stage mannerisms, exaggerated facial expressions and nuances that we are not accustomed to seeing from our modern stars. It is unfortunate that it is somewhat of a lost art. The scowls, grimaces, pomposities and skirt-flouncing of Louis Jouvet (who winds up inexplicably wearing a kilt) are simply remarkable to see. His face, not particularly handsome, has an interesting combination of angularity and roundedness that draws one to it; he has an amazing use of his eyes and shoulders to convey all sorts of subtleties.

The film contains rich visuals and excellent production values. In particular, the costumes are elaborate and evoke Edwardian England well with their detailed and eye-catching intricacies. The picture is an explosion of patterns; nearly everyone is wearing some sort of stripes or checks, and the backgrounds are all heavily striped in every direction. The camera itself is also entertaining, with some amusing POV shots and some odd effects work on display.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The black-and-white full-frame video looks quite good. The source print is generally clean although at reel changes there are some nasty blotches and bits of damage. Mild speckles are sprinkled throughout. Grain is moderately well rendered, although on occasion it tends to be somewhat sparkly. The picture is fairly sharp and detailed, with good texture. Minor aliasing is apparent at times, though I didn't note any edge enhancement. The frequently busy patterns look good for the most part although William Kramps' finely checked jacket occasionally moires when he moves quickly.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The audio sounds like it has been substantially cleaned up, although there is still plenty of hiss present. Noise and crackle are also audible, but not terrible. There's an annoying underlying rumble through much of the running time when played at reference levels. Music is, as is to be expected, rather tinny and thin, with no significant bass. Dialogue is fairly well understandable for the most part.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Production Notes
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Unfortunately, the sole extra provided is a set of production notes. They provide some essential background information but it would be nice if they were longer. Chaptering is adequate for a film of this length.

This presentation has not been served well by the keepcase cover art. Perhaps it works in France, where the faces of Louis Jouvet and Françoise Rosay may be as well-known as Lucy and Desi in America. Outside of France, the archaic portraits should have been replaced by almost any still from the movie, such as the comic view of the Scotland Yard inspector at a dining room table covered with dozens of milk bottles. I found myself dreading having to watch it, thinking it would be dull and antiquated, but I was greatly surprised and delighted to find it to be an utterly charming film, that I will be happy to watch multiple times.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Thoroughly charming farce with plenty of comic action and a foreign flavor, given quite a good transfer by HVE. Nothing much for extras, however.


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