Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. France, 1956. Agnes Delahaie Productions, Silver Films, Compagnie Industrielle et Commerciale Cinématographique. Screenplay by Jean Aurenche, Pierre Bost, based on the novel L’Assommoir by Emile Zola. Cinematography by Robert Juillard. Produced by Agnes Delahaie. Music by Georges Auric. Production Design by Paul Bertrand. Costume Design by Mayo. Film Editing by Henri Rust. Academy Awards 1956.
Maria Schell is outstanding as Emile Zola’s heroine, determined to do well in life despite always being at the mercy of the heartless men in her life. She has two children with her common-law husband and is devastated when he leaves her to run off with a woman of ill repute. Shen then marries François Périer and builds herself up a tidy little laundry business, then watches it all decline after her husband’s workplace accident turns him into an itinerant alcoholic. Fantastic sequences (an amazing fight between Schell and Suzy Delair as a scheming neighbor, a rich dinner sequence, the exciting, tragic conclusion) are combined with gritty commentary on morality and economics that make a perfect concoction, a film that gets your heart and mind racing in tandem. At its centre is its strength, however, as Schell performs with such intensely sympathetic vulnerability, her bright eyes steely and terrified at the same time.