Michel Simon (returning from Le Chienne) is Boudu, a crazily bearded homeless guy who grows despondent over the disappearance of his dog and jumps into the river. Hundreds gather to gawk, but one man, a bookseller who was watching Boudu before he jumped, leaps in to save him. The bookseller (Charles Granval of some Duvivier films) is congratulated and given awards for taking the poor man in, so he can’t throw him back out, even though Boudu is wrecking his house and interfering in the bookseller’s affair with his housekeeper Anne Marie. Finally Boudu wins the lottery (!), and so marries lovely Anne Marie, but just after the wedding, floating down the river with the whole family, Boudu topples their canoe and floats away, happily returning to his hobo life.

Simon at his most Charles Laughtonesque:

I can’t figure out if it’s an attack on bourgeois society, or simply an attack on everything. It opens with a couple of telling scenes. Boudu loses his dog, asks the police for help and they tell him to fuck off. A rich woman loses her dog a few minutes later and everyone in the park takes up searching for it. Then a fancy man drives up and Boudu opens the door for him. The man searches all his pockets for cash to give in return, until finally Boudu is tired of waiting and gives the guy five bucks. It’s a very fun comedy, much lighter than La Chienne and with an exuberant performance by Simon. Richard Brody calls Boudu a “walking principle of anarchy, insolence, and truth,” who “punctures the pretenses of decent society with the riotousness of a fifth Marx brother.”

There’s a scene with Jean Daste as a student visiting the book store, and immediately afterwards, a shot of barges on the river. I figured Daste + Michel Simon + barges = a L’Atalante reference, not realizing that this movie was released two years earlier.

Jean Daste with Charles Granval:

Renoir: “The success surpassed all hopes. The public reacted with a blend of laughter and fury.”

Based on a play, which was remade for television in the 70’s, again in the 80’s with Nick Nolte then in 2005 with Gerard Depardieu.

It could be fun to think of this movie as a sequel, since Michel Simon ended Le Chienne as a cheerful hobo, his former life and marriage in tatters. But the accountant of Le Chienne was too mild to turn into a Boudu. Also, his beard wasn’t nearly awesome enough.

C. Faulkner

This is the period of the Depression in France, which accounts for the indifferent remark by a working-class character on the bridge that, of late, people have been throwing themselves into the Seine with regularity.

There is a sense that Boudu exteriorizes something that is in Lestingois himself, that the bookseller has summoned him up from the dark reaches of the personal and social unconscious. Boudu is everything at the center of the self and within society that has been discarded, ignored, or repressed. This “boudu” belongs to filth, to waste, to the unassimilable; he is an instinct, an urge, a drive. (What kind of name is Boudu? Does it connote a substance? An action? A disposition?) This “boudu” is something “savage” (so says Madame Lestingois), summoned involuntarily, that both attracts and repels, in equal measure, and over which Lestingois has no control, as the balance of the film proves.

Assistant director Jacques Becker plays a ranting poet in the park:

Based on the same novel and play as Lang’s superb Scarlet Street. Middle-aged man “rescues” sexy girl on the street, sets her up in an apartment as his mistress, starts stealing from his workplace in order to pay her, as she funnels all her money to her boyfriend/pimp, who gambles it away then starts selling the Middle-Aged Man’s paintings for extra cash. The Man is despised by his wife, who still worships her deceased first husband – who later turns out to be alive, showing up in search of money. Man sees his chance, reveals the dead husband, nullifying his own marriage, also kills the girl (for which her boyfriend is blamed, and executed), ends up a bum on the street in front of the art gallery that is reselling his paintings for record amounts.

In the Lang film, architecture in the frame is as important as the performers, and Edward G. Robinson is a sap, destroyed by cruel, cruel fate in a cold, cold world. In this version, everything takes a back seat to the performances, and despite his misfortune, the man leaves the movie laughing, going for a drink with his wife’s first husband, now also homeless and destitute. Renoir has always infused his films with a life-affirming energy, so it’s weird that he took on such negative stories as this one, The Lower Depths and The Little Match Girl, only to defy their negative tones with his benevolent humanity.

Simon and his scowling wife, watched over by her (ex?)-husband:

Characters speak more frankly about sex than anyone would in a movie for the next forty years. Camera movement is somewhat rough, which makes sense for a 1931 sound film. It tries, though – when the girl and her boyfriend dance at a party, the camera dances with them. You can see the Moulin Rouge windmill (see also: French Cancan) out the window of the girl’s apartment. But the Moulin Rouge sighting is nothing compared to the connection to Renoir’s final feature, Le petit théâtre de Jean Renoir, which features a second husband treated coldly by his wife, always confronted with the gaze of his predecessor from a picture frame. That film also opens and closes, as does this one, with puppet-show curtains, Renoir telling us that life is theater.

Flamant and Marèse, looking briefly like they’re in a musical:

Michel Simon stars – is this only the second movie I’ve seen of his after L’Atalante? After that one, I never assumed he could play meek and sober, but he does a great job, and looks like Trotsky. Upcoming starlet Janie Marèse died in a car accident on the way to the film’s premiere. Georges Flamant survived the same crash – his final film was The 400 Blows. Roger Gaillard, the resurrected first husband, returned in Night at the Crossroads as a butcher.

Ruined, but not down: