Tuesday, October 12, 2010

At the (old) movies: 'Innocents in Paris'

Some notes from a recent meeting of the local cinephile society:

I’d never heard of “Innocents in Paris” (Romulus Films, 1953), but given that it’s a British film (with location footage in France) and featuring folks such as Alastair Sim and Margaret Rutherford, I figured it was going to be one of those eccentric Ealing-type comedies, kind of like an old Alec Guinness film without Alec Guinness.

Turns out I was wrong, but as much as I enjoy the Ealing films, I certainly wasn’t displeased by “Innocents in Paris.”

The plot is the kind of setup you’ve seen many times before and will probably see many times again: A bunch of people (of various types, of course) go on a journey that will Change All of Their Lives.

Not that there’s anything particularly philosophical or dramatic going on here; it’s a gentle comedy about people who behave a lot like people in real life, with some exaggeration. The script is by Anatole de Grunwald, and Gordon Parry is the director.

Alastair Sim is a diplomat who has a bad stomach and does crossword puzzles during boring international meetings. Margaret Rutherford is an amateur artist. Claire Bloom, in one of her earliest roles, is a young woman (natch) going to Paris for the first time. Monique Gerard is the girlfriend of an apparently well-to-do businessman who’s too busy to catch the plane with her but says he’ll join her at the hotel.

Laurence Harvey, in one of his earliest roles, plays a room service waiter at the girlfriend’s hotel. When he hears that her boyfriend still can't get away to join her, the waiter is determined to give her, shall we say, service deluxe.

James Copeland is a naïve Scottish man who is taken aback when young women in Paris follow him, laughing at his kilts. Jimmy Edwards is a blowhard who doesn’t seem to sense how ironic it is that, once in Paris, he retreats to a British-style pub where he seems to spend most of his time.

Ronald Shiner is a drummer in a military marching band that’s set to perform.

The various plots work themselves out in ways that pretty much wouldn’t surprise you, but they do so with a mostly understated charm. Sim and Rutherford have roles that they could easily make a 10-course meal out of, but they’re wise enough not to overact – at least not too much. Or maybe the director was reining them in.

For me (and quite possibly this is because I’d never seen him before), the standout performer is Shiner, who looks like a somewhat more refined Shemp Howard (no disrespect meant there, Shemp), with a beaklike nose added on. Or, if you want another comparison, imagine a Victor McLaglen who can underact. Shiner’s character, the infelicitously named Dicky Bird, is hilariously impudent and, ultimately, a bit touching.

I doubt this film is shown very often, and apparently the only DVD version is, for no discernible good reason, a Spanish one that can't be played on a DVD player in the U.S. Too bad, because perhaps the highest compliment I can give the film is that I wouldn’t mind taking this trip again sometime.

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