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Biography of Lucien Guitry, stage comedian, by his son, movie director, and a poetic reflection on the passionate love of both men for their chosen art forms.
The sardonic wit of Sacha Guitry, which sparked his most memorable pre-war films—such pictures as "Champs Elysées" and the impudent "Story of a Cheat"—cracks a few times but all too seldom in his first film made in France since the war, called in English "The Private Life of an Actor," which opened at the Elysée yesterday.
Framed as a film biography of his famous stage father, Lucien, this effort of filial devotion seems designed to achieve less admiration/for the father than for his precocious son. For in it the elegant Sacha plays not only Guitry père but also himself—and with conspicuous emphasis upon his own renown. Indeed, in his representation of his father's character—a studied blend of the great lover, the gifted artist and the man of the world—one senses a very strong suggestion of the role which Sacha has played for a good many years in the theatre, on the screen and on his own domestic stage.
Unfortunately, the effort has little dramatic form, being no more than Sacha's reminiscences of episodes in his father's life. There is a flash-back to Lucien's boyhood yearnings for a career on the stage, before the impersonation of the father is assumed by the son. Then there are several snatches of Sacha playing famous Lucien roles and one long and rather faded little story of a wistful affaire d'amour.
This one anecdote of Lucien's infatuation with the ward of an old boyhood friend contains the few glints of Guitry humor and urbane wit that the film affords. For it tells how the vulnerable Lucien (or is it Sacha?) responds to a young girl's love and has an idyllic romance with her—until she insists upon playing lead roles with him on the stage! In the role of the girl, Lana Marconi, who is the present Mme. Guitry, reveals far more beauty than acting ability—which may be significant, too. Jacques Baumer is wryly amusing as the guardian of the girl and Pauline Carton is richly Gallic and shrewd as Guitry's loyal maid.
The concluding section of the picture is anti-climactic and dull, being no more than a mawkish reminiscence of Lucien's playing in Sacha's "Pasteur" and his death. And the final curtain is curiously abrupt. In fact, one has the feeling that this picture was largely made to glorify the name of Guitry in its present embarrassment, since Sacha is still regarded with some question as to his loyalties during the war. And although it is artfully acted by the polished comedian, it leaves one wondering vaguely what, if anything, it proves.
© Bosley Crowther, "The New York Times", Sept 7, 1948
Source : movies.nytimes.com