René Clair Roger Manvell - Essay

Roger Manvell

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Clair has a happy time with [the delightful situation in The Italian Straw Hat], which provides the motivation for his incredible collection of 1895 bourgeois characters. The realism of the film lies in the settings and in the formalities of the wedding, in all those things people do to make them seem important and dignified in their own eyes….

As a piece of story telling the film moves slowly enough, but it contains so much carefully contrived humour and is so well acted … that it survives repeated viewings. (p. 220)

[All through the film episodes] are worked out with little need for captions or dialogue. That the film is both too slow and too long for popular entertainment I have no doubt, and the characters of the officer, the fainting wife and the bridegroom's sorrowful valet become repetitive and tedious. For it is the elderly folk who distinguish this film. They are comic types, no doubt, but wickedly apt and typical in their behaviour. The deceived husband, standing upright and indignant in a footbath, still wearing a frock-coat but without any trousers, is perhaps the funniest portrait of all. While searching the bridegroom's apartments for his lost wife he is the image of stupid suspicion, looking behind doors where the lovers had been hiding only after he has given them every chance to escape. It is characters like these which give the film its final right to survive as one of the richest and most meticulously made comedies of the silent period of film-making, almost in fact, without equal…. (p. 221)

Roger Manvell, "Revaluations—4," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1950 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 19, No. 5, July, 1950, pp. 219-21.