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April 18, 2023

Martin Roumagnac


Georges Lacombe - 1946
Icarus Films Home Video DVD All Region

There is a scene in Martin Roumagnac in which the contractor from a French provincial town goes to a late night dinner in Paris with the more worldly widow for whom he is building a small house. Taking place in a restaurant evoking Romanov era Russia, the patrons are entertained by a string ensemble in which showmanship may be more important than the music. The contractor dithers at his plate, uncertain of the correct fork to use with his meal. Part of the string ensemble surrounds the couple, making them a very captive audience. The contractor tells one of the violinists that the music is dripping on his coffee. There is some humor in the scene, but not enough. I am reminded of a somewhat similar scene in Billy Wilder's Love in the Afternoon. And I wish that Billy Wilder was the director here because he would have milked this scene for all of its potential humor.

The main reason for viewing Martin Roumagnac is for the pairing of two iconic stars, Marlene Dietrich and Jean Gabin. Originally, they were to make a film under the direction of Marcel Carne. That fell through as Dietrich did not like the screenplay. That Gabin and Dietrich did make a film with the lesser known Georges Lacombe makes sense as he was part of the wave of French realist filmmakers best personified by Carne and Rene Clement. Lacombe started as an assistant to Rene Clair. Martin Roumagnac received U.S. distribution under the title The Room Upstairs. The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther's dismissed the film as, "a dull stretch of old-fashioned drama". While the film did nothing to make Lacombe stand out from his peers, neither did it hobble his career as a dependable director. For Dietrich, the film is a small blip, a false start on a post-war career in which she segued from film star to nightclub performer. As Jean Gabin's first French film post-war film, this was the beginning of what has been described as a career slump that ended with the release of Touchez pas au Grisbi eight years later.

I have to agree with Bosley Crowther here in that the story is familiar. Gabin, in the title role as the well meaning contractor who gets in over his head upon meeting the widow Blanche Ferrand after she sits next to him by chance at a boxing match. The town is small enough that everyone seems to know everyone else. Having upset the senses of propriety, Roumagnac loses potential jobs and risks losing his company due to his attentions lavished on Blanche. There are the romantic rivals as well as the questions regarding Blanche's own feelings about the relationship.

Georges Lacombe may not be the visual stylist on the level of Marcel Carne, but he seems to find multiple ways of filming Marlene Dietrich's legs, starting with that first shot of her descending a staircase. If that is not enough, Dietrich is briefly seen in lingerie and stockings, immediately immediately arousing Gabin and presumably members of the film audience. Gabin was 42 at the time the film was made while Dietrich would have officially been 45. To the film's credit, the film presents romantic love between a middle-aged couple who also happened to have been briefly a couple off-screen. Getting hot and heavy in the barn's haystacks is not just for the youngsters.

The DVD was sourced from a 4K restoration.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 18, 2023 04:52 AM