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August 22, 2023

The Day and the Hour

day & the hour.jpeg

Le jour et l'heure
Rene Clement - 1963
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

The Day and the Hour combines two recurring themes for Rene Clement, the French resistance of World War II, and relationships of characters who may hiding their true agendas. The film was made at a time when wartime thrillers were still very much part of the cinematic mainstream. With dialogue in both French and English, plus some German, produced by MGM, this was the kind of international film made to appeal to an audience beyond the art house. The Oscar winning French actress, Simone Signoret, alternated between French and English language productions. Stuart Whitman, mostly known for starring in action films, was at his career peak. Having received an Oscar nomination as a reformed pedophile in The Mark (1961), Whitman probably saw working with Rene Clement as another chance to expand artistically. Reggie Nalder, with his skull-like face, shows up in a mostly dialogue free performance as a Gestapo agent. The elements are all here, yet it does not always gel.

Taking place primarily in Paris, Whitman plays an officer whose plane has been shot down. On the run with two other Allied soldiers, he is trusting of a network of resistance members and sympathizers. Due to circumstances, he is reluctantly taken in by Signoret, staying in her house for a couple of days until he can make a trip to the southern countryside and eventually Spain. In the meantime, Reggie Nalder auspiciously appears, casting his eyes on everyone. For a guy being pursued by Nazis, Whitman is hardly discrete, speaking English aloud in public and even going on a bender one night. The day soon comes when he is to take a train from Paris. Signoret, feeling protective, but also concerned about her own safety, goes along on the journey.

The best moments are saved for the train. Sardines have more standing room than these train passengers. Whitman has to push his way through to reach Signoret at the other end of one of the cars. Nalder squeezes through in pursuit of the two. Clement and cinematographer Henri Decae manage to film a series of traveling shots, the camera moving backwards as the characters face the screen. The passengers are all seen tightly within the Scope screen. The sense of claustrophobia, the lack of empty space, is almost overwhelming. And knowing how bulky those cameras were makes the scene a technical marvel. That scene is representative of how critic Dudley Andrew has assessed Clement's work: ". . . Clement's experiments are always limited. Technical problems continue to interest him, but he has never relinquished his belief that a film must be well-crafted in the traditional sense of that term. This is what must always distinguish him from the New Wave filmmakers with whom he otherwise has something in common."

There are no sparks between Signoret and Whitman. Even as she settled into middle age, Signoret was still able to charm Oskar Werner and the audience in Ship of Fools (1965). The closest Whitman came to being a romantic lead was with Maria Schell in The Mark, which having been filmed independently in Ireland feature a code busting scene of the two sharing a bed. In The Day and the Hour, declarations of love fall flat.

If The Day and the Hour does not rank among Rene Clement's better films, the train sequence assures that it is not a total misfire. Of interest also are brief appearances by Michel Piccoli and Marcel Bozzuffi in small roles. Future directors C;laude Pinoteau and Costa-Gavras served as Assistant Directors. Costa-Gavras would soon make his own thriller set on a train, The Sleeping Car Murders. While the music score is mostly traditional, it was composed by jazz musician Claude Bolling.

Samm Deighan's commentary track mostly places The Day and the Hour within the context of World War II films, touching on the history of the French resistance. The blu-ray is sourced from a 2020 4K restoration commissioned by the French studio Gaumont.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 22, 2023 06:02 AM