Cast & Crew
In 1940, as the German Army approaches Paris, diplomat Andre de Mornay and his American wife Kitty have a heated argument about her supposed infidelities. The impetuous, somewhat frivolous Kitty denies Andre's charges, then announces she is moving in with her former governess, Englishwoman Emmyline Quayle. By the time Kitty drives up to Emmy's rooming house, however, Emmy is frantically preparing to leave Paris. At first, Kitty refuses to believe that Paris is about to fall, but when she learns that the American embassy is deserted, she joins Emmy in flight. The women are soon trapped in a sea of cars and pedestrians, all trying to flee the city. Kitty avoids the jam by turning onto a side road, but the road soon ends at a German barricade. Although the German officer orders her to return to Paris, Kitty insists on stopping at an inn run by an old friend, Papa Renard. Once he recognizes Kitty, Papa nervously invites her and Emmy inside, then confesses that he is hiding a downed British pilot named Lt. William Gray. The resourceful Kitty offers to help Gray elude the Germans by hiding him in the back of her car and driving him to Paris, where she hopes her diplomatic friends will further aid him. On the way, one of Kitty's tires blows, and a German patrol, led by Capt. Kurt von Weber, happens by. Attracted to Kitty, von Weber insists on changing the tire and escorts her back to Emmy's rooming house. Once the Germans have departed, Kitty and Emmy sneak Gray past Mme. Martin, the concierge, and hide him in Emmy's flat. Seven days later, Gray is still at the rooming house, as Kitty has had no luck securing help. Aware that the Germans will kill anyone who is caught aiding the enemy, Gray announces he is leaving. Just then, however, the Gestapo storm the building and demand to search Emmy's place. Kitty hides Gray in the fireplace, and when the unsuspecting von Weber shows up with flowers for her, the Gestapo leave empty-handed. Fearful that Emmy's obvious nervousness will make von Weber suspicious, Kitty then suggests that he go dancing with her at a popular night spot. By chance, Andre is dining at the same place and, while dancing with his estranged wife, learns about her predicament. Andre pledges his help, and the next day, he arranges to have Kitty, Emmy and Gray smuggled into free France. However, just before they are to leave with their contact, greedy baker Tissier, Emmy is picked up for questioning by the Gestapo. Although Kitty and Gray cross safely, Kitty, who had promised Andre she would return to America, insists on going back for Emmy. Back at the bakery, Kitty and Emmy reunite and then head back to Paris. Sometime later, Kitty hears about a classified advertisement through which refugees can exchange coded messages with one another and sends a coded invitation to stranded pilots suggesting they contact her. In response, Kitty receives three letters, including one from a Father Dominique. After Kitty and Emmy question the priest and are convinced that he is genuine, he takes them to his church's secret basement, where he has hidden a large group of Allied servicemen. By drawing lots, two soldiers are selected for escape and hide in Kitty's car. Upon arriving at Tissier's, however, they learn that the baker has been shot. Kitty eventually comes up with a plan to smuggle the men into a funeral procession, knowing that the town's only cemetery is across the river in free France. With help from the local undertaker, Kitty's scheme succeeds. Instead of fleeing with the soldiers, Kitty and Emmy decide to return to Paris and continue their work with the underground. Two years later, the Germans have grown frustrated at their inability to capture enemy pilots, and arrange for a German spy to pose as an downed English pilot in order to expose the underground. The spy, who calls himself Lt. Commander Stowe, is delivered to Emmy's antique shop through the usual escape network, but Emmy becomes suspicious of him when he refers to scones as coffee cake. At that moment, she receives a frantic phone call informing her that Stowe is a spy. Stowe deduces his cover has been blown and calls Gestapo headquarters. Desperate, Emmy hits a startled Stowe over the head with a candlestick, killing him. Emmy then races to her rooming house to warn Kitty, but before the women and Andre, who has rejoined them, can flee the building, von Weber and his men storm in. Kitty and Andre manage to escape to the cellar, where they hide among the furnace coal, but Emmy is caught. The vindictive von Weber, who is unaware of Andre's presence, refuses to leave until Kitty is caught and, fearing for Emmy's safety, Kitty finally knocks Andre out and gives herself up. Two years later, after the liberation of Paris, Emmy and Kitty are released from their prisons and tearfully reunite. For their heroic deeds, the French government awards them medals, which are pinned on them by a proud Andre.
Harry Hays Morgan
Erich Von Morhardt
Marcel De La Brosse
Joseph I. Kane
Dorothy Van Buren
William H. Wilmarth
Paris Underground on DVD
Bennett plays Kitty De Mornay, the initially shallow American wife of an official in the French foreign ministry (Georges Rigaud). Kitty pays no heed to the Nazi's march to Paris, figuring the Germans would never take Paris and that it's little concern of hers, anyway. Kitty's cavalier attitude is a little hard to swallow, considering she's married to a Frenchman, even if we are led to believe she cheats on him and is about to leave him. But a lot of things go down uneasily in Boris Ingster and Gertrude Purcell's screenplay, based on Etta Shiber's novel. Kitty only starts to become concerned when she and her dowdy British friend Emmy (English comedienne Gracie Fields) run into Nazi roadblocks in their attempt to get out of Paris and eventually find a way to England. They come across a downed English pilot (Leslie Vincent) in the country, and suddenly start risking life and limb to protect him, hiding him in their car and, later, back in Paris when they are forced to return there.
Kitty's moral and political awakening doesn't really come across convincingly, partially because the man she risks being shot over is a nothing character. The flyboy is such a Central Casting stiff-upper-lip Brit that it's a stretch to think he would get her to second-guess her indifference. But even though Paris Underground was made thousands of miles from Central Casting, its generic touches can also be found in the casting of Kurt Krueger as a heel-clicking, aristocratic Nazi officer who takes a shine to Kitty, and who she sweet-talks to get him off her and Emmy's scent. Much of the movie similarly feels by-the-numbers, which makes it hard to call this rarely-seen picture's DVD a rediscovery. (The print used for the transfer is an English version carrying the movie's title in that country, Madame Pimpernel, which only raises expectations for a sly, rousing tale similar to The Scarlet Pimpernel, which this never becomes.)
While planning to get themselves out of the country as soon as possible, Kitty and Emmy decide to get another downed flyer out with them, but then decide to stick around and keep using the same contacts as an underground railroad of sorts. Any similarity between Kitty and Emmy's glossy doings and the real French resistance is purely coincidental; the two well-dressed women's efforts come off like the polite, amateur sleuthing within an Agatha Christie novel. Meanwhile, Paris Underground also offers a depoliticized picture of World War II., offering no Jewish characters or mention of the plight of Jews from Nazi-perpetrated genocide. Whether willfully or not, Paris Underground is a very airbrushed version of world events. On a more dramatic level, the movie, directed by sometime character actor Gregory Ratoff, also keeps to a predictable path, with clearly-marked heroes and villains.
That said, Paris Underground still somehow uncorks a nifty suspense sequence for its climax, in which the heel-clicking Nazi and his troops search a darkened basement for Kitty and her husband. But it's simply not enough, especially when it leads to a laughable resolution in which we learn Kitty and Emmy smuggled over 250 soldiers out of France. From the movie's action alone, you would guess they had smuggled out six-10 tops - so the grandiose claim feels foolish. Bennett deserves praise for her enterprise in making Paris Underground (she was apparently quite the businesswoman, later founding a cosmetics company), and her movie's heart is in the right place. But, to be generous, Paris Underground is one of those ripped-from-the-headline films that aren't designed to have a long shelf life. And this one is way past expiration.
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by Paul Sherman
Paris Underground on DVD
Etta Shiber's best-selling book chronicled her experiences aiding Allied aviators shot down over France during World War II. In May 1944, Hollywood Reporter announced that Julien Duvivier had been contracted by producer Constance Bennett to direct the picture. Duvivier later denied any connection to the project, however. Lucien Andriot was announced as the film's cinematographer in December 1944, but apparently did not work on the film. According to Hollywood Reporter production charts, Edward Cronjager began working with credited photographer Lee Garmes in mid-February 1945. In September 1944, Hollywood Reporter reported that Bennett was screening newsreel footage of the liberation of Paris for possible inclusion in the film. It is not known if this footage was used in the completed picture.
A studio credit list adds the following actors to the cast: Andre Charlot (François) and Loulette Sablon, Reska Law, Reni Revel, Nina Borget, Ray De Ravenne and Rene Mimieux (Operators and clientele of François' beauty shop). These characters were not seen in the viewed print, however. Hollywood Reporter news items list Blanche Franke, Eugene Borden and Carl Neubert in the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Paris-Underground marked Constance Bennett's first and only producing effort, although her company, Bennett Productions, Inc., made one additional film, Smart Woman (see below). Reviewers criticized Paris-Underground over-long and slow-moving, and the Hollywood Citizen-News review complained about the "datedness" of the material, noting the "growing public antipathy for war films." According to modern sources, the film was a financial disaster. Paris-Underground was reissued by Realart Films in 1951 under the title Guerrillas of the Underground.