Mauvaise Graine (1934):

A pit stop between UFA and Hollywood, like Lang's Liliom, with some fresh-eyed views of Paris streets keyed up to the alacrity of People on Sunday. As in that other early draft, Billy Wilder shares authorial duties (Alexander Esway is credited as co-director) and breezes through on sheer raffish gag-sketching. The hero (Pierre Mingand) is a young playboy who, finding himself without a car after his father (Paul Escoffier) decides to curb his extravagance, steals an auto in order to pick up a date. Larceny is a business like any other, and, since garage owner Michel Duran wants to keep his monopoly, Mingand is recruited into his gang of merry thieves; compulsive cravat-swiper Raymond Galle becomes his best pal ("I stole this one from Marcel Pagnol," he points out proudly), chauffeur-bait Danielle Darrieux his beloved. In need of a shipment of Hispanos, they put an ad on the papers, lock the rich owners in a phony waiting room and drive off with the vehicles -- "working in an office" is what really scares the cheerfully amoral characters, and, one senses, the young students of Lubitsch behind the camera. The shoestring budget occasions a chain of filmic jokes (offhand montage, jump cuts, zooms) picked up by the Nouvelle Vague, no opportunity to place the camera on car hoods or passenger seats is missed. A film about movement, speed, instability, new beginnings: The puckish mood darkens, Mingand and Darrieux seek bittersweet freedom "in the colonies" across the Mediterranean, Wilder finds it in that other outpost across the Pacific. With Jean Wall, and Gaby Héritier. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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