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Not just a pretty picture
on 20 June 2007
Casque D'Or may take a little while to get into, with the first half hour being largely milieu and set-up, but once the plot kicks in it's a compelling doomed romance. Seen today it seems certain to have been one of Scorsese's influences in Gangs of New York, not least because Jacques Becker takes the standard period costume drama setting, the opening scenes almost an Auguste Renoir painting come to life, and then plays a down-and-dirty movie that pays no attention to the niceties you're expecting: these characters really are low lives. The knife-fight is tough stuff, and its aftermath beautifully staged, and the finale has real emotional power - not least the shots of Serge Reggiani's almost-dead waltz with Simone Signoret that in a more 'modern' (1940-50s) setting would have pegged out his fate from the moment he met her. Having only seen Signoret in her later haggard roles, it was also a surprise to see just how luminous she was in her youth. Impressive stuff.
StudioCanal's Blu-ray release offers a very impressive transfer marred only by their passion for really tiny subtitles, though curiously they've not included any of the extras from their earlier French release (home movie footage and audio interview with Serge Reggiani, stills and poster gallery and original theatrical trailer), offering only a new half-hour documentary on the film instead. Luckily this turns out to be surprisingly good, detailing the production problems (the film was stalled for years because of a dispute between Julien Dvivier and Becker over who had the right to direct it), the development of the script from a Louis Javert crime movie to a doomed romance and it's poor initial reception at the French box-office and from the critics before its international success prompted local audiences to take another look. Along with extensive interview footage with assistant director Alain Jessua, it also offers extracts from audio interviews with Reggiani, Signoret, Becker and Jean Renoir as well as incorporating part of the trailer.