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Kino on Video presents
Princess Tam Tam (1935)

Max: That little animal is touching. She's so na•ve.
Coton: You must civilize her.
Max: How do I go about that?
Coton: Teach her to lie.

- Albert Prejean, Robert Arnoux

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: June 20, 2005

Stars: Josephine Baker, Albert Prejean, Germaine Aussey
Other Stars: Robert Arnoux, Jean Galland
Director: Edmond Grˇville

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for nothing objectionable
Run Time: 01h:17m:19s
Release Date: June 21, 2005
UPC: 738329040123
Genre: musical comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BBB- B-

DVD Review

Kino on Video has done a service for fans of Josephine Baker and French cinema in releasing her first three films on DVD. Princess Tam Tam, her third film, dates from 1935 and features Baker as an innocent, apparently homeless street urchin (though Baker was pushing 30 when the film came out). It's a charming little film, which will appeal to musical comedy fans (and Baker acolytes of course), though the film does have a bit of darkness to it.

Max de Mirecourt (Albert Prejean) is a failing writer; his books are now written with the assistance of a ghostwriter, Coton (Robert Arnoux). His wife, Lucie (Germaine Aussey), is a high society snob who disdains Max's absence of social-climbing qualities. The film begins with the two of them fighting, and from the start, both are clearly shown as petulant, spoiled creeps. Coton advises Max to leave the country to get away from her (and write a new book), so Max selects Africa. The two men hole up in a gigantic villa living the life of the idle rich when Max spies Alwina (Baker) trying to steal some oranges at a cafˇ. Alwina is the antithesis of Max and his ilk; she is high-spirited, honest, and does what she feels without ulterior motives. After encountering her again, Max decides to give Alwina the Pygmalion treatment, and voilà! He has the subject for his next book.

Lucie, meanwhile, isn't waiting for Max to come back. She's out on the town, and letting a foreign maharajah (Jean Galland, coated with face paint to look Indian) lavish his attentions on her. When news of this makes the gossip columns, Max is furious and the film kicks into gear as he sits down to thrash out his novel and return home. From there, we see the extensive education and training Alwina receives, turning her into something approaching a lady. From there, it's off to Europe, where a showdown between Max and Lucie awaits.

Princess Tam Tam is something of a cheat in the story that follows if you aren't paying attention, but it's enjoyable all the same. The only real drawback is the lack of redeeming qualities of basically any French character in the film. The only characters that aren't especially obnoxious are Alwina and Dar, Max's servant at the villa. Everyone else is scheming, dishonest, morally challenged, and otherwise generally unpleasant. Balancing that out is Alwina, who breaks free of her confining role by bursting forth into exuberant dance, once at a dumpy bistro she sneaks to with Dar (where she wants to go to see people who have real fun), and then, in the final number, where she rips off her beautiful gown to reveal the real Alwina within.

That final number is the major showpiece of the film, and it owes a fair bit to Busby Berkeley. It goes on a bit long before Baker injects some needed pizzazz into it. The film only has three songs, so those expecting an honest to goodness musical might be a bit disappointed. Baker's two dance numbers are worth watching, though. Edmond Gréville's direction is solid, playfully calling attention to the disparity in the natures of the French characters and those of Alwina. I do have to agree with a criticism of Gréville's direction of the first Baker dance scene made in the disc's documentary: he cuts up the number by inserting numerous reaction shots, taking our attention away from where it should be focused.

In the end, it is Alwina who must be the heart of the picture, and Baker carries it off. Amidst the dueling phonies (Lucie and her society snobs and Max the fraud writer), Alwina, described at times as "vulgar," "savage," and a "little animal," proves to be the most human of the bunch. The film is quite enjoyable as long as you don't identify with Max. In the end, Max and Lucie are made for each other, and Alwina gets the reward she deserves, rather than pining for the idiotic Max.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: .Princess Tam Tam is a 70-year-old movie and looks it. It has its fair share of speckling and dirt, but overall, it's an acceptable transfer for a non-American film of this period. Certainly not as sparkling as some of, say, Warner Bros' releases from the same period, but nothing to be ashamed of either. The picture sometimes looks a little bright, but otherwise, I was satisfied.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: There is audible hiss in the mono soundtrack, but it remains in the background and does not obscure dialogue or music. Again, like the video, this isn't flawless by any means, but more than servicable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 3 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Documentaries
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Stills gallery
Extras Review: The main extra of note is the short documentary, Josephine Baker: The Films (17m:45s), which covers, not surprisingly, the three films in Kino's Baker collection. Each of Kino's three discs has a different-themed segment on Baker and her career, and this one looks at the films themselves. Critics Margo Jefferson and Elizabeth Kendall, actress Lynn Whitfield (who played Baker in a telefilm), and Baker's adopted son all weigh in on her work. It's a worthwhile piece, generally fluff-free. It made me want to see the other two to get a fuller picture of Baker and her career. The documentary is presented in nonanamorphic widescreen. Also included extras-wise are a small collection of stills and a selectable song menu.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

An enjoyable musical comedy, Princess Tam Tam lets Baker do what she does best. The disc presents the film in a decent looking print with a quality short documentary on the actress.


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