This is the biggest French production since talkers began. Cost for two versions (French and German) is reported at $530,000, which puts it in a price class with expensive English pictures. Both versions were made at the Epinay (Paris suburb) lot of the French subsidiary of Dutch-controlled Tobis. It’s an attempt to impress the French market with what this outfit can do.
Plot develops with comparative swiftness. It unfolds the Charles Spaak tale of a Flanders village, peopled by rather timid males, visited by a regiment of Spanish soldiers. Recalling the brutal treatment visited on other towns by Spain’s military forces in the past, the male gentry decide to play dead.
This is literal in the sense the case of the burgomaster, and it furnishes some of the richest farcical scenes as he feigns death, lying in state. His robust wife rallies the women of the town, prepares a royal welcome for the duke and his men, and showers the Spaniards with such hospitality that the village wins a cancellation of taxes for one whole year, at the duke’s order.
What the fundamental structure of this story lacked, Bernard Zimmer, in transferring it to the screen, and Jacques Feyder, in directing, have made up for to a surprising degree. The scintillating performance of vivacious Franscoise Rosay and fine fidelity to character of a large part of the cast do the rest. Feyder has had Hollywood directorial training.
Harry Stradling’s cameraing presents a fine display of contrasts, first taking in spectacular shots and then grabbing intimate closeups that often bespeak more than the dialog.