Discussion:
TOPAZE (1951)
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Bill Anderson
2020-04-17 14:50:39 UTC
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A week or so ago I wrote about Marcel Pagnol's "Marseilles Trilogy" and
in reading up on it I learned the first two movies, MARIUS and FANNY
were based on stage plays he'd written and produced in Paris in the late
1920s. I also learned another of his plays from around this time,
TOPAZE, has been made and remade into at least eleven movies in various
countries and languages and plot iterations. Pretty impressive -- maybe
I need to check it out?

It turns out the first two versions of TOPAZE were filmed in 1933 -- one
in France and the other in the US, starring John Barrymore and Myrna
Loy. I might actually look that one up someday, as the pre-code
screenplay is probably a bit more explicit than that of the 1951 version
I just watched, which featured Fernandel and was directed by Pagnol himself.

My guess is that the story's popularity derives from its unabashed
cynicism, which I suppose was so unexpected that audiences in the early
to mid 20th century were both scandalized and delighted. As for me, I
didn't like it and I'm still bothered even as I'm typing this. I was
beginning to think I'd enjoy anything touched by Marcel Pagnol, but
nope, not this time.

I'll explain, but first: SPOILER WARNING. And now that you've been
warned, I'll advise you to save yourself from the misery of watching
this dishonest movie and read on...



M. Topaze is played by Fernandel, an actor whose bearded, horse-like
face I don't even like to look at. His character is a milquetoast,
beleagured teacher in a boys elementary school, constantly lecturing his
disinterested pupils on the importance of honesty and integrity in all
things.

The story is basically an examination of the old adage, "Crime doesn't
pay." Posters on M. Topaze's classroom's walls extol the virtues of
upright living, so it comes as a bit of a shock to him when he's fired
for refusing on principle to change the failing grade of a rich kid.

As luck would have it, the aunt of another rich kid he tutors on the
side is the mistress of a corrupt city official who is looking for a
useful idiot who can serve as the honest front for a new criminal
enterprise. Soon M. Topaze finds himself "directeur" of a phony company
and all he has to do is sign stacks of papers he never reads. This is
great until he begins to realize his "company" isn't exactly on the
up-and-up, and he is terrified that the gendarmes will appear in his
office any day now. So he informs his "benefactors" that he's going to
come clean and turn them in.

That's when the aunt/mistress charms him with words of love and
presumably a night in her boudoir, and he is enticed to say nothing and
continue in his new role. In the next scene Topaze appears sans beard
(Samson/Delilah, you know) and plunges enthusiastically into the
business of fraud, larceny and embezzlement. Turns out he's pretty good
at it, and soon he's running his own illicit schemes and making tons of
money without help from anybody.

Ultimately this leads to a visit from an old colleague at the boys
school, a man whose high integrity is equal to that of the old M.
Topaze, and the two engage in a lengthy discussion of whether a life of
honest poverty is preferable to the good life of a criminal. This is the
climax of the film: a debate on the competing benefits of integrity and
the lack of it.

Topaze offers his old colleague a high-paying job on his staff, and
naturally the man is offended by the very idea. But he's not above
sneaking a fancy cigar when Topaze is out of the room, and then...as
he's passing through the outer office he learns Topaze has no secretary.
"Hmmm...no secretary?" And that's the supposedly amusing ending for this
cynical story.

I didn't like the movie. Getting through it was depressing, true
drudgery, and I stuck with it only because I hoped I'd learn what there
might be about Pagnol's story to inspire so many versions to be filmed.
I swear I hoped I'd like it, hoped I'd find a glimmer of goodness. But
nope, it appears lots of people find cynicism more amusing than I do.

Maybe it's a French thing? As inexplicable as liking Jerry Lewis?
--
Bill Anderson

I am the Mighty Favog
william ahearn
2020-04-17 15:56:59 UTC
Permalink
Post by Bill Anderson
A week or so ago I wrote about Marcel Pagnol's "Marseilles Trilogy" and
in reading up on it I learned the first two movies, MARIUS and FANNY
were based on stage plays he'd written and produced in Paris in the late
1920s. I also learned another of his plays from around this time,
TOPAZE, has been made and remade into at least eleven movies in various
countries and languages and plot iterations. Pretty impressive -- maybe
I need to check it out?
It turns out the first two versions of TOPAZE were filmed in 1933 -- one
in France and the other in the US, starring John Barrymore and Myrna
Loy.
The Loy version isn't any better, although I liked the original more than you did.
Bill Anderson
2020-04-17 16:20:10 UTC
Permalink
Post by william ahearn
Post by Bill Anderson
A week or so ago I wrote about Marcel Pagnol's "Marseilles Trilogy" and
in reading up on it I learned the first two movies, MARIUS and FANNY
were based on stage plays he'd written and produced in Paris in the late
1920s. I also learned another of his plays from around this time,
TOPAZE, has been made and remade into at least eleven movies in various
countries and languages and plot iterations. Pretty impressive -- maybe
I need to check it out?
It turns out the first two versions of TOPAZE were filmed in 1933 -- one
in France and the other in the US, starring John Barrymore and Myrna
Loy.
The Loy version isn't any better, although I liked the original more than you did.
Well I've never seen the original, but I'll bet you're talking about the
1951 version. I hate to hear that about the Barrymore/Loy version as I
was hoping more engaging actors might bring some sparkle to all the
cynicism. I mean, we're talking Myrna Loy here.
--
Bill Anderson

I am the Mighty Favog
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