A naïve cashier who is far above his social class and cultivated falls in love with a tramp who milks the old fool for what is worth. Her only concern is to keep her pimp and the arrangement leads to a course that has disastrous consequences for all concerned.
Renoir took the story and created a poignant film that established his reputation as a film maker. It was his first sound film and what with prevailing Hayes code,1930 (‘No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it’) La Chienne was never shown in the United States until 1975, 44 years after its original French release.
Black and white,
Director: Jean Renoir
A meek and unassuming office clerk, Maurice Legrand (Michel Simon), teased at his workplace and terrorized by a virago of a wife at home, declines an invitation from his co-workers to turn the evening’s dinner banquet festivities into a night of carousing. His excuse is that he was to be home before his wife’s midnight curfew. On the way home, he encounters a young man abusing a young woman and quickly interferes to stop it. Gallantly he hires a taxi to take them home. After leaving Dédé (Georges Flamant) he walks through the seedy section to her dump. Before he takes leave he lets her know his intention.
The scene quickly lays down the premise of the film. Social morality and individual morality are two sides of the same coin. Legrand who will refuse to let down his public image however ridiculous, to be called a whore monger is not averse himself to set up a tramp in a quiet apartment.
Lucienne Pelletier, nicknamed Lulu (Janie Marese) lets the aging cashier keep her in such circumstances so she has Dédé on hand. Maurice keeps giving money and artwork to Lulu, forgiving her even after he finds out that she’s been selling paintings by “Clara Wood” that are earning high prices. There is a subtext in the private life of Legrand who discovers Adèle’s “dead” husband Godard (Roger Gaillard) is not dead. Renoir with tongue in cheek humor delineates the character who is an out and out scoundrel. His game is blackmail. He has come back demanding Legrand buy him off. While he was sacrificing his life for the country Legrand had stolen his wife, something that will never go down well for his public image. To his shock the unhappily married Legrand is all too eager to simply step aside. Renoir seems to comment: in the eye of the society the sergeant is a hero, a martyr. It would rather keep a lie in circulation than condone the man who replaced him in his bed.
Coming back to the story this episode shuts up Adèle (Magdeleine Bérubet) who had carped eternally about hero of her husband. Legrand is at last free.Maurice Legrand quickly moves to the apartment he had set up for his mistress. It comes as a shock for him to discover the sad truth: she loved him only for what she could get out of him.
In one unforgettable cinematic moment Legrand turns up unnoticed at the apartment while a crowd in front of the building is raptly watching street singer perform. He kills the tramp and walks away unnoticed. Soon the lover-boy arrives driving up in such ostentatious manner breaking up the crowd.
‘The film’s conclusion suggests that Legrand, a respectable member of bourgeois society and a white collar worker, doesn’t have to pay for his actions,… when there’s a far less respectable scapegoat at hand’. The film ends with a weirdly tragicomic epilogue, in which Legrand and Godard meet up as hobos, years later, both of them gruff old men cackling about their shared fate. When Legrand confesses that he has become a murderer since they last met, Godard simply stares at him for a moment and then shrugs, “it takes all kinds.” ‘La Chienne ends with Legrand telling Godard, “life is beautiful.” They walk away together. (ack: only the cinema/April, 2,2012/seul-le-cinema.blogspot.)
Michael Simon again would take the role of a tramp. He appears in Boudu Saved From Drowning.
To quote Peter Bogdanovich ‘Of all the great filmmakers, Renoir is most the humanist poet, the one director who only made pictures about people—not stereotypes, not archetypes, not myths, but real people’. People are not suspended in vacuum but in a milieu that is contrived. In cinematic medium social consciousness of the director dictates visual clues to give it specific gravity:using deep focus photography Renoir gives life of the people going on around the main personages and using repeated imagery of mirrors and reflections we also see them as though under a microscope. Adèle’s keeping her monthly dividends inside a mirrored wardrobe; the shot of a shaving Legrand that pans to the image of the opened wardrobe as he pilfers money, surprising Lulu and her pimp in bed we see him in reflection as the intrusive third party, each object acquires a power of its own.
The film opens and ends as though we are taken through the proscenium of make believe. I shall end with Bogdanovich: ‘The seeming simplicity of Renoir—he never calls attention to himself, yet it is so clearly his eye through which we are seeing the world—belies an amazing complexity in his understanding of people, of the human comedy.’
Trivia:;”In the film Michel Simon falls in love with Janie Marèse, and he did off-screen as well, while Marèze fell for Georges Flamant, who plays the pimp. Renoir and producer Pierre Braunberger had encouraged the relationship between Flamant and Marèze in order to get the fullest conviction into their performances – (Flamant was a professional criminal but an amateur actor). After the film had been completed Flamant, who could barely drive, took Marèse for a drive, crashed the car and she was killed. At the funeral Michel Simon fainted and had to be supported as he walked past the grave. He threatened Renoir with a gun, saying that the death of Marèze was all his fault. “Kill me if you like”, responded Renoir, “but I have made the film”wikipedia)