(The Crime of Monsieur Lange)
Director: Jean Renoir
Production: Obéron; black and white, 35mm; running time: about 2 hours. Released 24 January 1936, Paris. Filmed October-November 1935 in Billancourt studios, exteriors shot in and around Paris.
Screenplay: Jacques Prévert and Jean Renoir, from an idea by Jean Castanier; photography: Jean Bachelet; editor: Marguerite Renoir; sound: Guy Moreau, Louis Bogé, Roger Loisel, and Robert Tesseire; production designers: Jean Castanier and Robert Gys assisted by Roger Blin; art director: Marcel Blondeau; music: Jean Wiener; still photography: Dora Maar.
Cast: Jules Berry ( Paul Batala ); René Lefèvre ( Amédée Lange ); Florelle ( Valentine Cardès ); Nadia Sibirskaia ( Estelle ); Sylvia Bataille ( Edith ); Henri Guisol ( Meunier's son ); Marcel Leveseque ( Landlord ); Odette Talazac ( Landlady ); Maurice Baquet ( Landlord's son ); Jacques Brunius ( Baigneur ); Marcel Duhamel ( Foreman ); Jean Dasté ( Dick ); Paul Grimault ( Louis ); Guy Decomble, Henri Saint-Isles, and Fabien Loris ( Workers at the publishing house ); Claire Gérard ( Prostitute ); Edmond Beauchamp ( Priest on the train ); Sylvain Itkine ( Inspector Julian ); René Génin ( Client ); Janine Loris ( Worker ); with Jean Brémand, Pierre Huchet, Charbonnier and Marcel Lupovici, Michel Duran, and Dora Maar.
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* * *
For nearly three decades Jean Renoir's Le Crime de Monsieur Lange was a film which failed to garner the recognition it so richly deserved. At the time of its release, it was received indifferently and suffered the vicissitudes of political censorship. It was not until 1964 that the film enjoyed a U.S. release, and belatedly earned its reputation as a pivotal work in Renoir's career.
Le Crime de Monsieur Lange is the film which solidified Renoir's political reputation as the film director of the left. In sympathy with France's Popular Front, this film was Renoir's statement that the ordinary working man, through united action, can overcome the tyranny of fascism. Renoir's films were always imbued with a humanism and love for all mankind. With this film he uses a small group of Parisian workers, their families and neighbors, as a microcosm for the French common man.
Lange, played by René Lefèvre, is the author of a western pulp fiction series entitled Arizona Jim. When Batala (played magnificently by the great Jules Berry), the head of the nearly bankrupt publishing company, absconds with the company funds, Lange organizes a "cooperative" with the help of the other employees. Their venture is so successful it prompts the scoundrel publisher to return in the guise of a priest and reap the monetary rewards of the cooperative. In a brave and mandatory move, the naive and humble Lange kills the publisher to prevent the destruction of their venture. Lange and his girlfriend flee the country, are caught by border guards, but allowed to go free when the girl explains the details of Lange's crime.
The script of Monsieur Lange was written by Jacques Prévert from an idea by Renoir and Jean Castanier. As with all Renoir films, the script was simply a starting point around which Renoir composed his films. To emphasize the sense of community, Renoir centers all the action on the courtyard which surrounds the publishing firm as well as the homes of the workers. Thus the courtyard becomes an integral part of Renoir's mise-en-scene, as much a character in the film as any of the actors, representing a united world which in turn evokes Renoir's philosophical aspirations for all mankind. Renoir is thus able to demonstrate the importance of the interaction of his characters for the benefit of all. The beginning of the film is devoted mostly to scenes of characters one-on-one, emphasizing the lack of any central goal. When Lange begins his efforts to form the cooperative, Renoir shifts his scenes to those of group relationships. Throughout, he uses his extraordinarily fluid and cyclical camera movements to create a unity of both time and purpose.
While Monsieur Lange is both an intriguing story of crime and an exercise in black humor, the film encompasses much more. It is an attack on class superiority and prejudice, an attack on the church, and although Lange does commit murder, it is a crime of poetic justice exonerated by the victim's avarice and the altruism of Lange's goal. Despite its indifferent reception at its release, Le Crime de Monsieur Lange is today regarded as one of Renoir's best films and one which significantly captures the social consciousness of the day.