Friday, April 29, 2011


Sylvestre Bonnard, an old archeologist who still teaches at the University, lives a quiet life, surrounded by his beloved old books and tended to by his cranky but loving housekeeper Therese. His one regret is that he never married his childhood sweetheart, Katharine, now dead. When M. Coccoz, a penniless door-to-door bookseller, arrives, Bonnard helps him out by buying his entire suitcase full of books, and he tells Coccoz of his attempt to find a long-lost book from his youth, "The Golden Legend." He still cherishes a short love note Katharine wrote to him on a torn-off corner from a page of the book, and Coccoz's visit motivates Bonnard to head back to his hometown to find the book. It turns out to be missing from the family library, but he does meet Katharine's teenage daughter, Jeanne, who lives a miserable life feeling oppressed by M. Mouche, her guardian, and Mlle. Prefere, the uptight headmistress at the school where she is being trained to be a teacher. Bonnard sets out to brighten the girl's life, ultimately hoping to adopt her, but he is stymied by Mouche and Prefere. The guardian agrees to sell him the right to raise the girl, but Bonnard will have to sell all of his old books. The sale doesn't go as well as expected, but a return visit from Coccoz, who has found "The Golden Legend" and a secret about Mouche, winds up giving Bonnard the upper hand.

This potentially interesting storyline is let down by slow pacing, a dreary and repetitive musical score, and lack of characterization. As Bonnard, O.P Heggie (the hermit in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN) looks like Frank Morgan as Prof. Marvel in THE WIZARD OF OZ, but doesn't have the playful spark that Morgan would have had. Etienne Giradot, as Mouche, also lacks any real presence, so their conflicts play out in lackluster scenes. However, there are some good performances to save the day. Anne Shirley (pictured with Heggie) has personality to burn as Jeanne, Helen Westley is quite amusing as the housekeeper, and Elizabeth Patterson does a nice job as the headmistress, who blooms under Bonnard's attention, thinking briefly that he is romancing her. Also with John Qualen as Coccoz and Trent Durkin as a young man who catches Jeanne's fancy. One of a number of films from the 30s with senior citizens as lead characters (though Heggie was only 59, he looks considerably older and in fact died the next year). [TCM]

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