Featuring: The Moliere Players.
HOUSTON –“Aventure Malgache,” one of two French-language shorts directed by Alfred Hitchcock for the British Ministry of Information during World War II, has been unearthed by the British Film Institute and soon will be available from indie distrib Milestone Films. The Hitchcock name, and the drama’s legendary status among Hitchcock devotees, may be enough to ensure some theatrical exposure, but pic seems best suited for homevideo market.
“Malgache” was filmed at the Associated British Studios in 1944 with a cast of anonymous actors from the Moliere Players troupe. Hitchcock intended the pic to reflect deep divisions in the French Resistance, divisions he noticed during research for his previous propaganda short, “Bon Voyage.”
But the British government, preferring a more upbeat tone in propaganda shorts designed for France and her colonies, did not share Hitchcock’s taste for ambiguity, and shelved “Malgache” soon after its completion. Even so, pic reportedly received some theatrical exposure in France before all prints were rounded up.
Seen today, “Malgache” seems a minor but mildly entertaining slice of Hitchcockian cheekiness. The uncredited screenwriters devised a droll anecdote about wartime treachery and betrayal. Under Hitchcock’s smooth direction, it has a surprisingly light, almost bemused tone. It’s not exactly black comedy, but it’s just irreverent enough to suggest British censors may have had just cause to fear wartime audiences wouldn’t “get” the pic. Most of “Malgache” consists of a series of flashbacks narrated by Clarousse, an actor who recalls his days as a barrister — and his nights as a Resistance agent — in Madagascar.
After Petain’s order for capitulation to the Nazi juggernaut, Clarousse and other agents organize an underground railway to help Resistance fighters escape to join De Gaulle. Unfortunately, Clarousse is hounded by a corrupt police chief who’s loyal to Petain (or, for that matter, to anyone who’s in power). Even more unfortunately, Clarousse is inadvertently betrayed by a supporter who makes the mistake of telling his girlfriend about his impending departure.
The Vichy government-run court condemns Clarousse to five years of hard labor. He serves his time cheerfully, managing to hide a radio in his alarm clock so he can keep up with Resistance activity.
Eventually, Clarousse is rescued, and Madagascar is liberated by British forces. In the pic’s funniest scene, the police chief tries to swim with the shifting political tide by taking down his office portrait of Petain, and replacing it with a portrait of — no kidding — Queen Victoria.
Hitchcock further enhances “Malgache” with a few other clever visual touches, most notably in the scene in which the Resistance fighter spills the beans to his girlfriend. Throughout their conversation, a telephone looms forebodingly in the foreground, a portent of what will happen as soon as the lovesick dupe leaves his lady’s chamber.
Like “Bon Voyage,””Aventure Malgache” is little more than a footnote to Hitchcock’s career. But, then again, even footnotes to careers so remarkable are never without interest.
Tech credits are solid. Tom Milne’s English subtitles are everything they should be.