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Folies Bergère de Paris

Folies Bergère de Paris(1935)


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This film was also produced in a French-language version, L'homme des Folies Bergre. Reviews in March and April 1935 note that the English-language version's title had been changed to The Man from Folies Bergre. Although the complete name of this film as it appears in the screen credits is Folies Bergre de Paris, it is called Folies Bergre in reviews, studio records, copyright listings and modern sources. Reviews of the New York opening of the play The Red Cat, upon which this film was based, noted that it was presented with the backing of Twentieth Century Pictures. The Variety reviewer of the film commented that the play was a flop. According to the Motion Picture Herald review of the play, the character of "Baron Cassini" was based on "a combination of Otto Kahn, Match King [Ivar] Kreuger, with a touch of the late Monsieur [Serge Alexandre] Stavisky."

       According to a Daily Variety news item dated October 20, 1934, attorneys for the Folies Bergre in Paris attempted to halt production, charging that the film would cause the show irreparable damage. The studio, however, went ahead with the preparation and, according to the news item, photographed the theater from every angle. According to Dancing Times, Twentieth Century Pictures Vice-President in Charge of Production Darryl Zanuck, acquired in Paris the rights to use the title Folies Bergre.

       According to a pressbook in the copyright descriptions, Maurice Chevalier had been a star of the Folies Bergre, where he gained fame as the partner of the renowned performer Mistinguette. In the film he sings "Valentine," which, according to the pressbook, he sang originally in the Folies Bergre. Modern sources state that Charles Boyer was first offered the leading role, but because of his recent marriage to Pat Paterson, he declined and suggested Chevalier. Motion Picture Herald, in their review of the play, noted that Chevalier and Constance Bennett were rumored to be cast for the film. This was Merle Oberon's first Hollywood film. According to New York Times, she was paid $20,000. Modern sources state that Oberon at the time was engaged to Twentieth Century President Joseph M. Schenck.

       Daily Variety reported that Zanuck invited songwriters to an open competition to write songs for the film. He then let Chevalier select those he wanted to sing, and Chevalier chose Jack Meskill and Jack Stern's songs without hesitation, according to the news item. Information in the Produced Scripts Collection indicates that other songwriters who submitted songs included Con Conrad, Ann Ronell, Endor and Farrell, and Barry Trivers. In notes contained in the Produced Scripts Collection, Zanuck commented that he wanted a particular number in the film to emulate the "Shadow Waltz Number" from Gold Diggers of 1933 in that it should begin "intimately on the stage with Chevalier" and then develop "into a big production number with tremendous scope, which does not confine itself to the walls of the stage set, but allows us to develop with as much latitude as we want to." According to call sheets in the Produced Scripts Collection, Zanuck himself was scheduled to direct the "Hydraulic Hat Number," which became known as the "Straw Hat" number. This number, which May have been designed according to Zanuck's above comments, became one of two numbers for which dance director Dave Gould won an Academy Award for Best Dance Direction of 1935. (Please see the entry for Broadway Melody of 1936 for further information about Gould's award.) According to the pressbook, the "Straw Hat" number cost $100,000, while the film itself cost over $1,000,000. Also in this Produced Scripts Collection notes, Zanuck discussed a plan to use the Boswell Sisters "for a quick second chorus or a harmony chorus in the middle of some of the production numbers," but they do not appear in the film.

       According to the information in the Produced Scripts Collection, after the original ending for the film was shot, Zanuck ordered retakes and, in fact, wrote two new scenes himself. He complained that "Genevieve" in the original ending, "was too calm, too deliberate when she should have been unnerved and almost hysterical" and commented, "The trouble with the scene as it now stands is that it drags on and on and does not have a funny conclusion, and, after all this is a comedy."

       The French version, L'homme de Folies Bergre, was shot simultaneously with the English-language version, according to the call sheets in the Produced Scripts Collection. Zanuck, in a letter in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, stated that for the French version, he brought over "the best known translators and adaptors headed by Mr. Marcel Achard" and that he "borrowed from the Theatre Franaise the leading actors and imported some of the best known screen names." The screen credits for the French version noted that actor Fernand Ledoux was from the Comdie Franaise. Gossip columnist Sidney Skolsky's column of January 15, 1935 in DN was devoted to the filming of a scene in the French version at which he was present on the set. As Skolsky described the scene, the camera followed Chevalier backstage to reveal an onstage tableau of "nude girls." Skolsky noted that the shooting of the scene drew many observers and that the scene was taken over and over again. He also stated that the members of the regular dancing chorus refused to work in the sequence, because they feared the harm that might come to their later careers because of the scene, should they become stars. The studio, according to Skolsky, was then forced to hire professional models. According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, PCA Director Joseph Breen inquired of Zanuck about the scene, and Zanuck informed him that the director of the French version "permitted several of the stage girls to walk through the various scenes with their breasts uncovered" and that he, Zanuck, allowed the director "to uncover the breasts of some of the people that were merely used as atmosphere backstage inasmuch as this picture has not been made for exhibition in America or any English speaking countries." Following this exchange, Will H. Hays, President of the MPPDA, informed Schenck that under an agreement reached by the MPPDA Board, there could be no deviation from the principles of the Production Code in the making of any picture in an American studio, and thus that there could be no shot allowed in the French version that would be objectionable under the Production Code. Hays commented in a letter to Schenck, "It would do real harm, indeed, if they ever start making in Hollywood pictures of nude breasts." Zanuck responded with an angry letter to Breen, in which he began, "Hasn't Mr. Hays got enough troubles of his own without trying to find something else to worry about?" He conceded that several scenes "photographed as background atmosphere only" contained "several French chorus girls with their breasts undraped. I have managed to eliminate them to the extent that they are quite inconspicuous." Zanuck went on to assure Breen, "Our French version could be seen tomorrow by any American audience and there would be nothing any more offensive in it than there is in the American version." In a letter dated March 21, 1935, Zanuck explained to Breen that he could not submit a print of the French version for review because the negative and only print had already been sent to France, where, because of an arrangement with the French United Artists Co., who financed the film, all further prints would be struck. However, Zanuck assured Breen that the French verison contained "no nude or undraped women-I saw to it that the one girl with her breasts uncovered was eliminated. You can assure the General [i.e. Hays] that he can sleep well; Hollywood has again upheld the true standards of France." On April 9, 1935, a contact in France wrote the Hays Office that he had viewed the film and "didn't see any naked breasts in it. All appear to be covered." When the French version played in New York in April 1936, Variety commented, "Rumor lane had it that the French version had been made a good deal more risque than the original. If so, it doesn't show as screened here."

       According to the call sheets in the Produced Scripts Collection, Ern Westmore did make-up for Merle Oberon's tests, and Gilbert Emery was originally cast as "Monsieur Paulet." Modern sources list as additional cast members in the French version, Ferdinand Munier, Albert Pollet, Mario Dominici and Olga Borget, and give the following additional credits: Chief sd eng E. H. Hansen; Art dir supv William Darling; Costumes Albert M. Levy. The film marked Chevalier's last American film until Love in the Afternoon in 1957. Chevalier did not return to Fox until he made the film Can-Can in 1960. Fox remade the film twice: in 1941 as That Night in Rio, directed by Irving Cummings and starring Alice Faye and Don Ameche; and in 1951 as On the Riviera, directed by Walter Lang and starring Danny Kaye and Gene Tierney.