René Clair Charles Davy - Essay

Charles Davy

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In René Clair's A Nous la Liberté a comparison was suggested between life in prison and life in a mass-production gramophone factory. Clair, it was said, would have liked to press this comparison home, but his backers wanted light entertainment, not social pungency. Possibly, in directing Le Dernier Milliardaire, he was similarly handicapped, for whenever the stage is set for satire—and it often is—he is inclined to sheer off towards farcical fantasy. Le Dernier Milliardaire has many delightful moments, but it suffers badly from a curious incoherence, probably because the conventions of its artificial world are never clearly defined….

There are a good many … touches of Clair's unexpected irony—so many, indeed, that one feels the picture ought to be more entertaining than it is. Its central weakness, I believe, is that the humour lacks perspective; there is no solid background to supply light and shade. Clair might have produced a magnificant satire on dictators and financiers, but he has chosen—or has been compelled—to deprive his characters of human reality, so that too often they seem to be displaying the arbitrary animation of marionettes.

Charles Davy, "The Cinema: 'Le dernier milliardaire'," in The Spectator (© 1934 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 153, No. 5550, November 9, 1934, p. 714.