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Reunion in France
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MGM. 102 minutes.
US general release: 12/25/42.
VHS release: 12/5/90. DVD release: 5/22/07.
Cast: Joan Crawford (as "Michele de la Becque"), John Wayne, Philip Dorn, Reginald Owen, Albert Basserman, John Carradine, Ann Ayars, J. Edward Bromberg, Moroni Olsen, Howard Da Silva, Henry Daniell.
Credits: Based on an original screen story by Ladislas Bus-Fekete. Screenplay: Jan Lustig, Marvin Borowsky, Marc Connelly. Producer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Director: Jules Dassin. Camera: Robert Planck. Art Director: Cedric Gibbons. Music: Franz Waxman. Costumes: Irene. Editor: Elmo Veron.
Plot Summary: Better known as Reunion in France, this women's-magazine-style romantic melodrama was the first major production for director Jules Dassin -- who was promptly demoted back to the MGM "B" department when the picture tanked at the box office. Joan Crawford stars as Frenchwoman Michele de la Becque, who comes to believe that her fiancé, wealthy munitions manufacturer Robert Cortot (Philip Dorn) is a Nazi collaborator. When her suspicions are apparently corroborated, Michelle falls in love with Pat Talbot (John Wayne), a downed American aviator stranded in occupied Paris. Only then does Michelle discover that she's been all wrong about Cortot -- but what to do about Talbot, who has been marked for death by the Gestapo? Ava Gardner has a tiny role as a Parisian shopgirl. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
In production: 6/42 - 9/42.
British title: Mademoiselle France.
T.S. in the New York Times
March 5, 1943
If "Reunion in France" is the best tribute that Hollywood can muster to the French underground forces of liberation, then let us try another time. For the new film which opened yesterday at the Capitol is again making the shallowest drama out of the pith and substance of an ironic tragedy. It is not a picture of France as it fights today in ways devious and dark; it is more simply a stale melodramatic exercise for a very popular star. In the role of a spoiled rich woman who finds her "soul" in the defeat of France, Joan Crawford is adequate to the story provided her, but that is hardly adequate to the theme. The picture is by MGM, Miss Crawford's ensembles by Irene.
The plot moves by rote, the characters by the most trivial compulsions. Miss Crawford appears as a giddy lady who thinks wars are merely the pastimes of overgrown boys until France is crushed and she returns to Paris to discover that her fiancé, an industrial designer, and the Nazi officials are thick as thieves. Amid her bewilderment she takes a passing fancy to a pursued American flyer, helps him to safety, but returns to her earlier love when she discovers that the designer's vast plants are actually turning out faulty weapons for the Nazis, while simultaneously organizing a nucleus of armed forces for the future.
On the basis of evidence to date, MGM seems somewhat off base when it infers that the initiative for a French resurrection comes from its moneyed society folk and spendthrifts; hardly an ordinary French citizen appears in the film. Instead, most of the action takes place against a background of palatial homes and lavish coutouriere's establishments. Most of the lines and situations might be taken from Italian opera—they're hollow and stilted like the dressmaker's declaration: "How can you expect a woman to cry at the collapse of an empire?"
Under the circumstances, one can't ask too much of the performances. Miss Crawford as usual makes an elegant manikin for a series of ensembles that probably will excite more female comment than the picture itself. Philip Dorn is a good deal better than his role of the designer and John Wayne is totally unconvincing as the American flyer. Lesser roles are played by Albert Basserman, John Carradine and Reginald Owen. As for "Reunion in France," it has had the temerity to be glibly untruthful on serious matters. It has slipped on its own banana oil.
Joseph Pihodna in the New York Herald Tribune (1942):
Suffice to say that Miss Crawford appears in enough new dresses to please producers and the feminine audience. With all the evidence in, Miss Crawford, as Michele de la Becque, isn't making all the sacrifices implied in the script. She has certain prerogatives. Dressing like a refugee is certainly not in her contract.
Essentially a Crawford vehicle with Wayne in a thankless supporting role, Reunion in France suffers from MGM's desire to turn a serious and volatile subject into a mindless backlot entertainment. Nowhere is this more evident than in the decision to pay more attention to Crawford's dazzling wardrobe than to historical accuracy. Reunion in France will suffice as entertainment if you're prepared to shut your mind off for 104 minutes, but don't expect much more than fluff.
A terrible, unbelievable story that makes little sense on any level and is topped off by the fact that you don't believe anything the stars do in this movie (except for when Duke slugs that Nazi). While Crawford and Wayne might have been perfect for one of those mismatched buddy movies (a la Turner & Hooch), they generate nothing other than to show us what would have happened to Casablanca if it had been hampered by a dull as dirt story (both in smarts, action, and emotion) and stars that thought mouthing bogus platitudes saluting the courage of a people who rolled over like they were the New Jersey Nets or something was somehow inspiring a multitude of people to keep fighting the good fight (or in the French case, to start fighting). ...Sit through this abominable entry in the "Rah, Rah, Rah! Go Allies!" film genre and you understand what they're talking about when you hear people say "war is hell!" ...
If you've seen Reunion in France and would like to share your review here, please e-mail me. Include, if you like, a picture of yourself to accompany your review, as well as a star-rating (with 5 stars the best) and any of your favorite lines from the film.
Shane Estes (June 2010)
Rating: -1/2 of 5
This film gets such a bum rap, and in my opinion undeservedly so. It’s actually so much fun! Come on, and ? It’s brilliant! I think all parties involved did the best they could with what they had to work with. Nobody wanted to do this film! Crawford even stated that by this point she was so used to getting bad scripts she “just surrendered. The fight was gone.” The director Jules Dassin hated the film from the beginning and was basically forced into doing it. His ramblings about this film are quite amusing. All the drama surrounding this project is hilarious. Apparently Joan kept trying to move out of frame whenever she had a scene with Phillip Dorn due to a previous affair, subsequently pissing off the director. He was so angry the studio heads spent more time discussing hats than anything else, and it’s supposed to be a war movie! But alas, this is indeed a Crawford picture, and hats are important damn-it!
is a cute little wartime melodrama involving the transformation of a spoiled aristocrat (Crawford) into a proud French nationalist, and it comes off nicely. The cinematography is handsomely shot, and it looks like this film really got the A-treatment. There’s nothing that looks cheap about it. (The hats are definitely great!) Joan is always fun to look at, but she’s exceptionally beautiful in this film. I love how she gets top billing but the DVD is marketed as a “John Wayne movie,” with his face towering over everything on the cover, even though his part is actually not that big and this film is a far cry from what most would consider a “John Wayne movie.”
One of the best scenes is where Crawford first encounters Wayne, exhausted and delirious with hunger, trying to escape the Gestapo. When she asks him who he is, he replies with “Some kind of bird, maybe. No kidding, I fly, very low and very slow, like a duck, maybe that’s what I am, a duck.” Wayne’s character in this film is actually kind of funny. It works for the film.
One thing I really admire about this movie is its function as a protest film. It may be a little over-the-top in the way that it stereotypes Germans, but it is a reflection of the times. One of my favorite parts is when Crawford fearlessly stands up to the Nazi commander who takes over her home. When asked if she needs anything further, she replies, “As a matter of fact there is, you and/or the German army… never mind, I’m sure it’s punishable by death.” Another notable protest part is where the guy outside the department store is playing Mendelssohn on a violin and two Nazi guards walk by and ask what he is playing, to which he replies “Wagner.” After they leave, his girlfriend says “Idiot, what if he knew that was Mendelssohn?” He answers, “He wouldn’t dare admit it.” Probably the best piece of protest material in this film, though, is at a Nazi banquet where there is a jazz band made up of all-black members singing an anti-Hitler song with the line, “I’ll be glad when you’re dead, you rascal you.”
As a side note, (Mrs. Howell) makes an entertaining appearance as a Nazi wife. Didn’t you just love her in Female on the Beach (1955)? I think she only plays one type of role; definitely a character actress, but she does it well.
Michael Lia (January 2010)
Rating: of 5
The older I get the sicker I get when I ride roller coasters or drive on Highway One in California. It is weird -- a combination of nausea and motion sickness, sprinkled with hot flashes. In fact I want to throw up. Watching makes me feel the same way. I thought I was a pro and could take any genre. However, this film is painful: worse than the pain that Rhoda Morgenstern received from her mother, but the word pain said in that Jewish mother way.
Trog is more watchable, and that is a different kind of pain. There are at least ten major dogs in Miss Crawford’s cinematic history. This one ranks very high. This film is not alone: ever view Miss Bette Davis’s Satan Met a Lady or Winter Meeting? Katharine Hepburn in Jade? Ingrid Bergman in Saratoga Trunk? I can give those five minutes and I then hit myself on the head. But as always the difference with Miss Crawford is you could watch her even if she was playing Wallace Berry’s grandmother! She is always able to make you keep your eye on her!
Okay.Reunion in France is just awful and I have wrinkles on my forehead as I write that. It is like rotten milk, spoiled eggs, brackish water, and a hotel with no windows.
One thing to remember: when the studio was good, it was out of this world; when the studio is asleep and lazy and greedy, it is way off target and can damage the universe. Shame on the producer (this is the same man who would give us All about Eve in 1950). This time Miss Crawford was just a piece of meat that poor Jules Dassin had to serve up. The writers must have been on the same roller coaster as I was.
MGM had already said good-bye to Miss Greta Garbo, and even Myrna Loy and the beautiful Virginia Bruce (never gave her a chance). It is evident that Miss Crawford's days at the studio were numbered, and I am sure it was painful for her. I give her a drug addict’s courage and strength for even showing up on the set and speaking her dialogue.
If the studio still had the interest and wanted to put out a good film, they could have succeeded -- make Miss Crawford American and not French, possibly working in Paris in the fashion industry and getting the script involved realistically with the It could have been an engrossing drama or war film, a thriller, a spy yarn... anything but this crap.
Paris suffered hard during the Second World War. This is beyond silly. But damn, everyone involved got a new Cadillac. Would I have done the same, Louella?
I know some of the character actors, but I will not waste the time on them; that day they just went to work. Only Natalie Schafer stands out, and she turned out to be an old windbag, in later interviews telling those “he had to eat the whole box of chocolates” stories. And she wasn't even there. Thanks Mrs. Howell.
If you like being dropped from a high-rise building or run over by an automobile or locked in a closet with a stranger talking on their mobile phone, then this film will be most enjoyable…Oh yeah: Miss Crawford wears some beautiful gowns.
Watch some documentaries on Paris during the war and you will die at the MGM attitude; even the garbage cans in the alley are American. There is nothing French about this film, and I still don’t get whose reunion it is.
Above: US lobbies.
Above: Italian lobby. Below: UK lobbies.
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