Thursday, 19 February 2009

Voyage Surprise (1947)

All I really knew about the French surrealist poet Jacques Prevert is that he wrote most of the screenplays and dialogue for the populist director Michel Carne and that between the late 30s and mid 40s they were jointly responsible for some of the most poetic, atmospheric, and memorable films of that period including "Drole de drame", "Le Quai des brumes", "Hotel du Nord", "Le Jour se leve", and their monumental masterpiece "Les Enfants du Paradis". The National Film Theatre is currently presenting a season of their work, jointly and separately, and I shall be returning next week to view "Les Portes de la nuit" which is one of their few I've not seen previously. What I was not aware of beforehand is that Prevert also scripted Jean Renoir's "Boudu.." back in 1932 nor that he had a younger brother, Pierre, who was also a director, actor, and writer.

This film is one of the brothers' rare collaborations and is an unusual, humorous treat. The title translates as "Mystery Tour" and this is what is being offered to the inhabitants of a provincial village by the elderly and failing tour bus operator Pere Piuf. There is no itinerary nor price and the proposed vehicle is a converted 'wedding bus' with plush loveseats and fixtures. An assortment of local types of all classes are attracted to the voyage including two young men on the lam from Paris with a purloined taxi (in which the stolen jewels of a Ruritanian duchy have been hidden in the toolbox) with two inept cops hot in pursuit. There is also the daughter of a more successful coach operator, played by the young Martine Carol -- the only cast member familiar to me -- who is aboard to sabotage the tour and a young and swooning wedding couple who join the motley crew en route. Their adventures include overnighting in a smalltown brothel where the rooms convert into magic kingdoms or otherwise, as the two policeman find their room turned into a hurricaine zone, and finding themselves on stage at a theatre performance attended by an exiled Duchess. Much has been made of this grand personage throughout the film, so it comes as something of a hoot to find her being played by a male dwarf! Throw into the mix a mad revolutionary and desperate diplomats chaining up dissidents and the stage is set for the farce this film becomes. My only criticism is that the programme listed this as an 85-minute film and it in fact ran for another twenty minutes or so which is probably 20 minutes too much for this sort of whimsy.
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