Directed by Maurice Lehmann

106 minutes / B&W
French / English subtitles
Release: 2022
Copyright: 1939

Fernandel was a 20th-century French phenomenon – once he emerged from supporting roles in the early ‘30s, with his inimitable equine mug, enormous incisors and friendly eyes, he commanded lead roles in over 40 films before the decade was through. (His popularity and prolificness didn’t wane until his death in 1971.) This relaxed farce features the star as a naive jeweler’s assistant who unknowingly gets mixed up with the Parisian demimonde – namely, Michel Simon’s petty crook and Arletty’s convicted-gangster’s moll. Under extreme pressure from his boss’ dicatorial daughter (Helene Robert) to become a couple, Fernandel’s blithe Everyman falls for Arletty’s worldly vixen, and the four of them work at all kinds of cross-purposes until, inevitably, the underworlders decide they have to break into (“fric-frac”) the jeweler’s safe.

Lehmann and Autant-Lara work in service of his remarkable cast, beginning with the timelessly affable Fernandel, behind whose cartoonish visage lies a skilled comic performer. Simon, on the other hand, is his extraordinary, irascible self, a character star (beloved by Vigo and Renoir) so committed to his own low-life dishevelment that he seems less an actor than a calamitous fact of life. Arletty and Robert bring their feminine will to the skullduggery, while the directors are in no hurry – the story, based on a play, has a loose and loitering rhythm, always ready for a detour or a binge or a jaunt, rather like the crooks themselves, hanging out in dive bars and cooking up schemes to pay for the next round of drinks.

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A film by Maurice Lehmann
Starring Fernandel, Michel Simon, Arletty, Hélène Robert


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