I shouldn’t have to convince you to see a beautifully restored, 4K presentation of a great French film by the director of Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game, but here goes anyway. From 1936, director Jean Renoir’s The Crime of Monsieur Lange has been one of the master’s more difficult-to-see works over the years. Elements of it seem especially timely, with its story of would-be writer Amédée Lange (René Lefèvre) who creates an American Western serial called “Arizona Jim” that becomes a hit when it is published in a struggling magazine. Jules Berry plays the con artist/womanizing Batala, the head of the publishing company, who hits on every woman who makes the mistake of walking into his office and owes money all over town.
Lange’s fortune as a writer is tied to his dastardly but charming boss, but when Batala takes advantage of a young washer woman who works for Lange’s new lady friend Valentine (Florelle), not even the promise of money and fame as a writer keeps him from wishing harm on the publisher. A train wreck seems to spell the end to everyone’s problems, but Batala doesn’t die that easily, and Lange eventually takes matters into his own hands when the reorganized and highly successful publishing company comes under danger of being undone by Batala.
Most of The Crime of Monsieur Lange is told in flashback by Valentine, who attempts to explain to a group of bar patrons why her on-the-run traveling companion should not be turned in to the police for a crime he has committed. But the film takes pointed, firm swipes at privileged men in power who never stop groping the women around them, while also playing up the positive impact of the artistic collective that takes over the publishing company when Batala disappears.
Of course, the film also says that sometimes it’s okay to murder someone, but you don’t have to agree with every message a film puts out there in order to appreciate it. Beautiful to look at and wickedly funny at times, this is certainly one of Renoir’s most under-appreciated works, which you are now being given a chance to appreciate fully. You won’t regret it.
The film opens today for weeklong run at the Gene Siskel Film Center.