The Children of Paradise opens
While Marcel Carné’s Children of Paradise opened in New York City in November, 1945, just months after World War II was officially over, the film was forged in the cauldron of the war. Supposedly the film had its origins in 1942, when director Carné and poet and writer Jacques Prévert ran into an old friend, the actor Jean-Louis Barrault, in the south of France. Over drinks, Barrault recounted the anecdote of the great 19th century mime Jean-Baptiste Gaspard Debureau, who killed a man who’d accosted his date. His subsequent trial for murder became a Parisian sensation, not so much because of the crime, but because hundreds of fans wanted to hear the famous mime speak. While the filmmakers let go of the particulars, they grew attached to the period and the people who made up the theater world back then. At the same time, due to Nazi occupation, it was near impossible for the filmmakers to create any work on contemporary subjects. Shooting commenced in August 1943 in France, and continued through the last years of war. Initially shot in Cannes, the film was called back to Paris by the Nazis. The production was subsequently shut down when it was discovered that one of the producers had Jewish ancestry. One actor was arrested on set for being a member of the resistance. Later, another actor had to flee when it was discovered he’d worked as a Nazi collaborator. But the story, set in early 19th century of Paris, has nothing to do with war. The story recounts how four men (Jean-Gaspard Debureau, Frédérick Lemaître, Pierre-Francois Lacenaire, and Count De Montrary) vie for the heart of the same mysterious beauty, Garance. Each of the main characters was based on real historical figures. The mime, Debureau, revolutionized that field of drama during the period. Lemaître was one of the most celebrated actors of his time. And Lacenaire was a poet who became more famous when he was arrested for murder. When the film came out, nearly every critic jumped up to explain how this drama of 19th century theater people was really about the Nazi occupation of France. In any case, the film remains essential to French culture. It has regularly been chosen by the French as the greatest French film of all time.