Marcel Carné | Drôle de drame | Le Jour se lève | Thérèse Raquin

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Marcel Carné

Marcel Carné is a French film director.

Drôle de drame

Drôle de drame (1937) is an ingenious farce, richly plotted, and with the good acting found in the best Tradition of Quality French films. Sweet and recommended.

In a_film_by, Jean-Pierre Coursodon pointed out how French films traditionally restricted themselves to French-speaking locales: France, Belgium, Switzerland, Quebec, French-speaking areas of the Caribbean. There are exceptions, such as Max Ophuls. Drôle de drame is another exception: most of it takes place in Victorian England.

Le Jour se lève

Is This a Film Noir?

Is Marcel Carné's Le Jour se lève (1939) a film noir? This is a tricky question. It has many similarities with the later American genre, which mainly ran from 1941 to 1958. Similarities: But Carné's film also has many important differences from later noirs. Chiaroscuro lighting is rarely employed, although many scenes do take place at night. While crime is prominent at the beginning of the film, the bulk of the movie focuses not on crime, but l'amour. Carné develops an elaborate four sided love triangle that anticipates the complex romantic entanglements of his later classic, The Children of Paradise (1943 - 1945). It is this fatalistic love drama that drives the film, not any crime elements.

Crowd Scenes

Another difference: the many crowd scenes in the film. Film noirs tend to occur In a Lonely Place. Even when they involve larger numbers of people, the hero tends to be an alienated urban individual, lost in the crowd.

Not here in Le Jour se lève. Many of the people in the crowd know the hero, and they struggle to reach out to him, and help him. Even when they are strangers, they are focused on the hero, watching his every move. This gives a very different feel to the film than from later noirs.

Crowd scenes were a specialty of Carné. They show up with great vividness in The Children of Paradise, where they are both on the street, and in the theater back stage.

In Le Jour se lève the crowds are both on the street, and every floor of the hero's apartment house. They are lively and alert, and form a great portion of Carné's mise-en-scène.

Overhead Shots

The overhead angles in Carné tend to be a little more "justified" than in many later film noirs. A Siodmak or an Aldrich will just cut to an overhead angle when he feels like it. But Carné tends to show an overhead angle when it is the Point of View of a character looking down from a high window, or when it becomes dramatically necessary to show several floors of the apartment at once.

This is not always true: an overhead POV of the street now is followed by a flashback overhead shot of the street empty. This gives a dramatic contrast. But it is close to being an overhead shot for the sake of an overhead shot, something the director does because he finds it a better movie.

Carné has a good eye for architecture, especially a Lang-like fondness for staircases.

Overhead views down the stairway well, recall Feu Mathias Pascal (Marcel L'Herbier, 1926) and M (Fritz Lang, 1931).


The hero wears a spectacular body suit at the factory. It completely encases him, like the viral-protection suits modern day disease fighters wear. He also carries a phallic looking hose. In general, his outfit is highly macho. But it comes with a sort of apron: an ironically feminine touch that underscores the maleness of the rest of the outfit. The apron fastens at the sides, and also invokes the chaps worn by cowboys.

The goggles and gloves of the outfit recall pilots and motorcyclists. The goggles with their protruding face plate also recall the scientist in his lab in L'Inhumaine (Marcel L'Herbier, 1924).

Thérèse Raquin

Thérèse Raquin (1953). Generally disappointing, not up to pre-1945 Marcel Carné. The thriller second half is livelier than the soap opera first half.

This film plays a lot like a John Waters parody, such as Polyester. Just as Divine kept having trouble with obnoxious men she married or dated, here the hapless heroine copes with her stupefying eunuch of her husband. And the two sexy men she meets ... turn out to be sadists.

The Biker

The blackmailer (Roland Lesaffre) at least looks good in his leather motorcycle jacket. This was a year before The Wild One, but the mystique of The Biker seems to be underway. It Always Rains on Sunday (1947), directed by the gay Britisher Robert Hamer, and They Caught the Ferry (1948), made by another gay European director, Carl Theodor Dreyer, also built up the image of the leather-clad motorcyclist. Marcel Carné also falls into the category of "gay European directors". Please see my list of Leather Jackets in Film.

The heroine's burly boyfriend (Raf Vallone) himself wears a black leather coat. It is more brute-like and less glamorous than the blackmailer's form-fitting leather jacket. The man in the loving couple seen early from the heroine's window, also seems to be wearing black leather.

Uniforms also play a role in Thérèse Raquin. The blackmailer is first seen dressed as a sailor. And a uniformed young postman plays the key role in the final scene. His "nice guy" looks form an ironic contrast to the inadvertent destructive role he plays. His uniform makes him sexually attractive to a young woman.

The hero (Jean Gabin) of Le Jour se lève also wore a leather jacket. And numerous uniformed men take part in the attack, in that film.

A Gay Subtext

Everyone in Thérèse Raquin is heterosexual. And the story has the heroine struggling against sexual repression and a dull husband to find an exciting male lover.

But this tale can be seen as covertly allowing gay feelings to be expressed:

The lover (Raf Vallone) carries other men: the drunken husband at the start of the film, the blackmailer towards the end. Such carrying can be seen as having a gay subtext.

Location Photography and Masculinity

Thérèse Raquin benefits from its location photography. The train shots are good. Early on, we see the husband working in a railroad yard. And the middle section of the film takes place on and around trains.

Men in Thérèse Raquin are associated with vehicles. There is perhaps a symbolic linking of masculinity with such vehicles:

The wife is also associated with a vehicle: a trolley. She is not the driver of this vehicle though, unlike many of the men.

The river area in Lyons also gets a photogenic treatment.

The hill in Lyons in the final shot is striking, with a wavy design along its side.

The Circular Staircase

The small circular staircase adds visual interest. It is consistent with Marcel Carné's interest in staircases in other films like Le Jour se lève. Staircases are also prominent in film noir, and Thérèse Raquin has elements of the noir crime thrillers of the era.