A NOUS LA LIBERTE (1931) B/W 95m dir: René Clair
w/Raymond Cordy, Henri Marchand, Rolla France, Paul Oliver, Vincent Hyspa, Jacques Shelly, Andre Michaud, Germaine Aussey, Alex D'Arcy, William Burke
From The Movie Guide: "This classic satire on the dehumanization of industrial workers is one of René Clair's greatest achievements, preceding Chaplin's indictment of the industrial revolution, MODERN TIMES, by five years. Clair's fast-paced and wickedly funny entertainment centers on the friendship between two prison inmates --- Louis (Raymond Cordy), who escapes and becomes a phonograph company tycoon, and Emile (Henri Marchand), who, after he too escapes, is hired at his friend's factory. Filming without a script and giving his actors freedom to improvise, Clair structured his film like an operetta. Georges Auric wrote the music, to which the movements of the assembly line of actors are choreographed. Clair's message is an angry one --- 'a bitter pill,' as he described it, which 'would be more easily swallowed when coated with diverting music.'"
From Georges Sadoul's Dictionary of Films: "Two friends escape from prison and the first (Marchand) sacrifices himself for the second (Cordy), who becomes a big manufacturer of records. After Marchand is freed, he becomes employed in his friend's factory and recognizes him. The factory owner takes away a large sum of money in order to escape blackmail but a storm blows the bank notes away to a crowd of officials who grab them. The factory owner then escapes the police with the help of his old friend and they become happy vagabonds, while the factory continues to function for the benefit of the workers. Clair said to Charensol about this film: 'At the time I was closest to the extreme left. I wanted to attack the Machine, which led men into starvation instead of adding to their happiness. I was wrong to use the operetta formula but I thought it would enhance the satirical nature of the film more than would a realistic style.'
"Conceived when the economic crisis and unemployment in the Western world were being attributed to automation, this film contains excellent sequences that have become classics. Especially notable is the parallel of working on an assembly line in prison and in the factory; the regimentation of workers and prisoners in [Lazare] Meerson's futuristic and deliberately inhuman sets. Another justly famous sequence: the officials in top hats fighting for the bank notes in the storm. Excellent acting by Cordy and Marchand (an unknown actor who remained so). Very good music by Auric, especially the final chorus. 'My old friend, life is beautiful (...) One can laugh and sing all together. One can love and drink all together. For us, for us, is freedom.'
"The film's failings lie less in its Utopian, though ironic, theme than in a certain cold formality in its perfect images and editing, a coldness that counteracts the warmth of the two principals.
"When Modern Times was finished in 1935, Tobis (which was controlled by [Joseph] Goebbels [leader of the Nazi propaganda machine]) sued for copyright infringement against Chaplin, who had clearly been influenced by the assembly line scenes. But René Clair, whose Henri Marchand character was derived from Chaplin, brought the suit to an end when he said: 'All of us flow from a man whom I admire and I am honored if he was inspired by my film.'"
A NOUS LA LIBERTE was nominated for an Oscar for Best Art Direction (Meerson).