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  Johnny Frenchman Parlez-Vous?
Year: 1945
Director: Charles Frend
Stars: Francoise Rosay, Tom Walls, Patricia Roc, Ralph Michael, Paul Dupuis, Frederick Piper, Arthur Hambling, Richard George, Bill Blewitt, James Harcourt, Richard Harrison, Stan Paskin, James Knight, Leslie Harcourt, John Stone, George Hirste, Alfie Bass
Genre: Comedy, Drama, War, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The year is 1939, and on the coasts of the English Channel, there are two rival communities: the Cornish and the Bretons. They each lay claim to fishing rights between their villages, and jealously guard their territories, so when one of their boats strays into the other's areas of legal fishing, they are quick to act. Take Madame Lanec Florrie (Francoise Rosay) who today sees her boat crab fishing, but is she telling the truth when she ends up at this Cornish harbour and says that she lost control of her vessel? They treat each other with a scepticism that is not quite goodnatured, but rarely descends to fisticuffs, though events will take a turn that will bring them both together as the Second World War looms large over their lives...

Technically a propaganda movie from Ealing Studios in that it was trying to propagate good relations between Britain and France just as the war had ended (it was released a couple of months after V.E. Day), but more than that Johnny Frenchman was one of those efforts from the studio that opted to examine the identities of small communities, only this time it wasn't solely British, it was roping in Northern France as well. Presumably this was intended to ensure the understanding between the two countries that the conflict had generated would continue, banishing the kind of xenophobia and nationalism that fosters aggression and eventually, war of the sort that had blighted the world for the past six years from the perspective of when this was produced.

With that in mind, you might be anticipating an extended public information film, with a voiceover telling you off and much didacticism in the plotting, but it entertained a lighter touch than that under Charles Frend's direction and maybe more importantly, T.E.B. Clarke's screenplay. Clarke was just starting out at Ealing, yet would become one of their brightest stars as far as the writing went with the likes of The Lavender Hill Mob and (maybe more relevant to this film) Passport to Pimlico among his C.V. Here he exercised a slightly cruder, more rough and ready variation on his usual themes of British parochialism and what makes the national character, but it remained perfectly diverting thanks to a capable cast. Leading them was Rosay, heroine of the Free French who campaigned for her country throughout the war while keeping her profile visible in a series of Hollywood movies.

She wasn't averse to appearing in other places, hence this role where she could promote France as it picked itself up and sustain its alliance with Britain past the war. Meanwhile on the other side of the Channel was Tom Walls, the farceur who was popular with the general public for his comedy and, latterly, drama, this part combining the two: he was at least more convincingly Cornish than Patricia Roc, "Goddess of the Odeons", who didn't even attempt the accent as his daughter. She is supposed to be paired off with local dullard Ralph Michael, but once she claps eyes on strapping French fisherman Paul Dupuis (actually a French-Canadian star, but the Brits didn't mind, they liked him all the same) it's love at first sight. Therefore you had romance, war, comedy, colourful characters, attractive scenery: a good night out in 1945 and a pleasant Sunday afternoon in the twenty-first century. If once it had worked itself out it was somewhat schematic in putting its moral across, then that was the time it was made; not quite the best of Ealing, but typical of their concerns in the forties. Music by Clifton Parker.

[Network release this on Blu-ray as part of The British Film, with an image gallery, subtitles, and cream of the extras crop, a quarter hour featurette with interviews from people who worked on the film in their youth.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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