Cast & Crew
Roy Del Ruth
After Eugene Charlier, star of the Folies Bergère in Paris, impersonates in his act the flirtatious Baron Cassini, the real baron, Fernand, goes backstage to congratulate Charlier and meets Charlier's lover Mimi, whom he tries to seduce. Meanwhile, Genevieve, the baroness, who is disillusioned with the baron's cheating and their passionless marriage, calls Charlier to her table, but she is taken aback when he flirts with her. When Henri Baneffe and Gustave Chatillard, the officials at the baron's bank, learn that the baron has gone to London to avoid bankruptcy by trying to get a loan to repay the twenty million francs he lost on the Nero mine in Mozambique, they hire Charlier to impersonate the baron during a reception for the premier of France. Genevieve plays along with the deception, although Charlier does not know that she knows he is not Fernand, and as a jest, she encourages his romantic inclinations. When Monsieur Paulet, the finance minister, asks to buy the baron's shares of stock in the Nero mine, Charlier unwittingly gets the price up to twenty-five million francs. Meanwhile, Mimi, angry at Charlier's absence, goes to visit the baron, whereupon Charlier, as the baron, kisses her to test her fidelity. She backs away until she recognizes the scratch marks she gave Charlier earlier, and then, to make him jealous, asks him to make violent love to her. Charlier slaps her, they argue and he leaves. The real baron returns and, having learned that Genevieve earlier had flirted with Charlier, tries to seduce her. Realizing the ruse, Genevieve kisses the baron passionately and leaves him thinking that she has betrayed him, but the next day, the baron, now aware of his wife's game, convinces her that he just arrived in town that morning. Ill with despair because she thinks that she earlier kissed Charlier, Genevieve learns the truth when he comes for a letter of recommendation. Although she tries to confuse the baron further, he kisses her passionately to prove that the earlier kiss was his. Later, he and the baroness watch Charlier, who has reconciled with Mimi, perform again in the Folies Bergère.
Roy Del Ruth
Frank Mcglynn Sr.
Joseph E. Bernard
Bob Von Dobeneck
Mary Jane Hodge
Anders Van Haden
Lucille La Marr
Mary Jane Carey
Beatrice Chenier Green
V. L. Mcfadden
Joseph M. Schenck
Best Dance Direction
Folies Bergere de Paris
But Chevalier was getting tired of playing what he called "the same old fellow," the seductive Frenchman sweeping women off their feet and into bed with a smile and wink, and he was battling Irving Thalberg over his MGM assignments when Fox producer Darryl F. Zanuck offered him the lead in Folies Bergère de Paris (1935), a musical comedy that moves from the Paris stage to the world of high society and high finance and back. Zanuck had negotiated the film rights for the legendary Paris show palace and developed the film (based on the play The Red Cat) for Charles Boyer. When Boyer declined, Chevalier took the part.
The film offered Chevalier the opportunity to play two different roles: Folies Bergère headliner Eugene Charlier, a singer famed for his impersonation of Parisian millionaire Baron Fernand Cassini, and the banker and notorious womanizer Cassini himself. British beauty Merle Oberon (in one of her earliest American films) co-stars as Cassini's wife in "the perfect modern marriage" (they each go their own way) and Ann Sothern is Charlier's pathologically jealous girlfriend. The two men flirt with one another's partners, of course, but the play of mistaken and swapped identities gets comically complicated as identities are swapped back and forth and the women use the confusion to play their own games.
The choreography by Dave Gould is right out of the Busby Berkeley playbook, with sets that expand back from the proscenium arch of the physical stage into impossibly epic spaces, dancers that multiply into small armies, overhead cameras that look down on a chorus forming elaborate geometric patterns, and increasingly abstract and surreal sets. The opening number sends Chevalier dancing through a downpour that covers half the stage, and the film ends with the Academy Award-winning "Straw Hat" number, an elaborate set piece built around Chevalier's trademark boater hat, which becomes the basis for crazy props and massive sets inspired by the texture of the simple straw hat.
Even though he was in Hollywood, Chevalier proved to be a major attraction for French audiences, and French language versions of his Hollywood pictures were routinely produced simultaneously with the American shoot. The overseas version of this film, titled simply Folies-Bergère, also included alternate versions of the dance numbers with the chorus girls performing as they do on the stage of the real Folies Bergère: topless. American audiences were not so privileged and had to settle for double entendres and suggestive dialogue like: "If I can't be happy with another man's wife, how can I be happy with one of my own?"
"I got a kick" out of making Folies Bergère de Paris, Chevalier told the New York Times, "and although I did not think I was a great actor or that the picture was a masterpiece, it was something new and different." But Chevalier had become frustrated with the direction of his career in Hollywood and it became his last American picture for over two decades. He broke his contract with MGM and returned to France and to the stage. He didn't return to American screens until Billy Wilder cast him in the 1957 Love in the Afternoon, the beginning of a brief American comeback.
Meanwhile, Folies Bergère de Paris was remade twice, as That Night in Rio (1941) with Alice Faye headlining and Don Ameche in Chevalier's role and On the Riviera (1951) with Danny Kaye in the double role and Gene Tierney and Corinne Calvet as the women in his life.
by Sean Axmaker
"The Good Frenchman: The True Story of the Life and Times of Maurice Chevalier," Edward Behr. Villard Books, 1993.
"Maurice Chevalier," Michael Freedland. William Morrow and Co., 1981.
"Chevalier: The Films and Career of Maurice Chevalier," Gene Ringgold and DeWitt Bodeen. Citadel Press, 1973.
Folies Bergere de Paris
TCM Remembers - Ann Sothern
TCM Remembers - Ann Sothern
Please, Monsieur Charlier. You know that kissing is not hygienic. Doctors claim that millions die each year from kissing.- Perishot
Oh, yes? But what a pleasant way to die! Darling, kill me quick!- Eugene Charlier
Rene, why don't you marry, get yourself a wife of your own, and leave me alone?- Baroness Genevieve Cassini
If I can't be happy with another man's wife, how can I be happy with one of my own?- Marquis Rene de Lac
This film was also produced in a French-language version, L'homme des Folies Bergère. Reviews in March and April 1935 note that the English-language version's title had been changed to The Man from Folies Bergère. Although the complete name of this film as it appears in the screen credits is Folies Bergère de Paris, it is called Folies Bergère 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 Bergère 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 Bergère.
According to a pressbook in the copyright descriptions, Maurice Chevalier had been a star of the Folies Bergère, 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 Bergère. 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 Bergère, 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 Française 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 Comédie Française. 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.