American Party Chick and Poodles Flee Nazis, Live Well


Who was Constance Bennett? Joan’s older sister; a snarky, mannered go-girl paradigm for the talkie era; Cary Grant’s ghostly partner in Topper; and the gimlet-eyed floozy who stole Garbo’s swan song, Two-Faced Woman, from Garbo. Here she’s also an independent producer—in 1945—with this snappy little wartime low-budgeter, chronicling a slatternly American party chick (Bennett), her fussy Brit spinster friend (vaudeville vet Gracie Fields), and their two black poodles as they try to escape Paris with the Nazis looming. Naturally, the two rescue a downed pilot, fight fiercely for the right to live well during the occupation, and eventually pioneer the entire refugee-smuggling underground, all in 97 minutes. Directed by halfhearted Renaissance man Gregory Ratoff, this forgotten trifle has been restored by the BFI (from an English print retitled Madame Pimpernel), and Dietrich-seasoned photog Lee Garmes’s visuals are luscious, foreground-cluttered fakeries. (Calling the set-via-shadow strategy Maddin-esque is simply stating the obvious.) The movie may be stuffed like a Tokyo subway with clichés, shorthand hooks, back projection, and flip insouciance, but it also signals the grim Nazi experience of civilian freight before any movie I can think of. Befitting its threadbare nature, the film is all alone on its disc.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 26, 2005

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