Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
Original title: Les Bas-Fonds
Alternate title: Underworld
France, 1936. Films Albatros. Screenplay by Yevgeni Zamyatin, Jacques Companeez, Jean Renoir, Charles Spaak, Dialogue by Jean Renoir, Charles Spaak, based on the play Na dnie by Maxim Gorky. Cinematography by Fedote Bourgasoff. Produced by Alexandre Kamenka. Music by Jean Wiener. Production Design by Hugues Laurent, Eugène Lourié. Film Editing by Marguerite Renoir.
Jean Renoir adapts Maxim Gorky’s play with liberal changes to the original text. Louis Jouvet loses his fortune at a gambling table and is forced into a poorhouse, where he befriends a thief (Jean Gabin) who is having an affair with the wife of the man who runs the house. Trouble is, Gabin is also in love with her sister, but the romantic plot is just a set-up for Renoir’s as-usual sharp observations of human interaction. Forced by the rising tide of Nazi Germany to avoid the bleak outlook of the original play, the film is somewhat caught between two worlds, never comfortably residing in either dowdy naturalism or romantic fancy, but the strong direction and terrific performances keep it from being painfully uneven or forgettable. Remade later on, much more faithfully to Gorky’s original, by Akira Kurosawa in 1957.
The Criterion Collection: #239