French Cancan (Directors Suite) (1954)

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Released 15-Mar-2010

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Drama Audio Commentary-by Anna Dzenis and Rick Thompson, lecturers at La Trobe Uni.
Trailer-Directors Suite trailers
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1954
Running Time 99:49
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (46:20) Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Jean Renoir

Madman Entertainment
Starring Jean Gabin
Françoise Arnoul
María Félix
Anna Amendola
Jean-Roger Caussimon
Dora Doll
Giani Esposito
Gaston Gabaroche
Jacques Jouanneau
Jean Parédès
Franco Pastorino
Michèle Philippe
Michel Piccoli
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $34.95 Music Georges Van Parys

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame French Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English Alternate Subtitles
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     After the box-office failure of The Golden Coach (Le carrosse d'or) in 1953, Jean Renoir was forced to accept work in France. The Golden Coach was shot in Italy in 1952 in English, French and Italian and together with this film and 1956's Elena and her Men represent a 'loose' trilogy in Renoir's oeuvre, centred around the theme of the theatre. The Golden Coach represented Renoir's return to film work in Europe after leaving to work in the Hollywood system during World War Two. Prior to returning, Renoir had made an adaptation of Rumer Godden's novel, The River in India in 1951. This film marked the end of an era in Renoir's style; no longer would Renoir film in open and natural locations as he had done during his creative peak in the 1930s.

     French Cancan, unlike The Golden Coach, was an attempt to make a film that was larger-than-life. It was a fictional account of the development of the famous cabaret show theatre, the Moulin Rouge (or the Red Mill), built in 1889 by Joseph Oller which became known as the home of the traditional French can-can dance which is still performed today. The building features a red windmill on its roof and it has become the subject of two other important films titled Moulin Rouge, the 1952 film by John Huston and the 2001 musical by Baz Luhrmann. Renoir's fictional account states it is a musical comedy in its opening credits, therefore I believe that this film has more in common with famous Hollywood musicals of the 1950s such as An American in Paris and Singin' in the Rain rather than John Huston's 1952 film.

     Jean Gabin stars as Henri Danglard, a small-time theatre owner who has big dreams to develop a big theatre with big acts. His main act, his belly-dancing mistress Lola (played by real-life diva Maria Felix), is becoming a small-time attraction at the beginning of the film when Danglard happens upon the talents of working-class laundress Nini (played by Francoise Arnoul). He hatches upon the idea of building the Moulin Rouge club to perform the outdated dance (for the period setting of the film in 1889), the French can-can. From here Renoir shows us the complexities of bringing Danglard's dreams together. Firstly there is the problem of financing, secondly, just as in all good Renoir films of the 1930s, the main characters have many different romantic escapades during the film. Danglard has three mistresses and both Lola and Nini have three lovers or suitors each. Will these romantic complications allow our main characters to get the show off the ground? The wonderful spectacle at the end of the film (in the tradition of An American in Paris or the lengthy dance sequences in Powell and Pressburger's 1948 film, The Red Shoes or Donen and Kelly's 1952 classic, Singin' in the Rain), the performance of the French can-can, will delight you, no doubt as it did the original French cinema audiences when the film was released theatrically in 1955.

     French Cancan was a big box-office hit for Renoir, unlike The Golden Coach and the follow-up to this film, Elena and her Men, made in 1956. The reason for this may be due to lead actor Jean Gabin's re-emergence as a popular lead actor in 1955 for his performance in Jacques Becker's crime noir, Touchez pas au Grisbi (released by Madman's Directors Suite label in January 2010). Gabin's career was in the doldrums for some time during the 1940s and early 1950s but Touchez pas au Grisbi and this film raised his acting profile again to the level he had previously enjoyed in the 1930s. The other reason for the success of the film may have been the subject of the film itself which would have made an easy cultural connection for French cinema-goers in the 1950s.

     Madman's Directors Suite label has previously released The Golden Coach in 2009, and in March 2010 it completed the cycle of Renoir's 'spectacle' trilogy films by releasing French Cancan and Elena and her Men.

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Transfer Quality


     Unlike the previous release of Renoir's spectacle trilogy, The Golden Coach, this release of French Cancan does not have contrast fluctuations, blurriness or colour bleeding.

    The original aspect ratio of the film is 1:33:1 full screen. The video transfer looks quite good. The main presentation takes up 6gb of space on the dual-layered DVD with an average bitrate of 8.21 m/b per sec. Although the transfer looks sharp, there are some instances of film grain present in the transfer.

    The original technicolor cinematography looks vivid and bright. Renoir makes use of the technicolor film stock used by filming scenes with many alternate primary colours. Despite the richness of the colour scheme, the technicolor cinematography is not as rich as Hollywood technicolor restorations such as Singin' in the Rain, The Wizard of Oz or Gone with the Wind. The original 35mm film print makes this transfer look slightly desaturated.

     There are not as many film artefacts in French Cancan as there were for The Golden Coach. There are minor instances of white (or negative) film artefacts and telecine wobble. More common are reel change markings.

    Again Madman provides subtitles in English in yellow or white. This time the default option is yellow as the main presentation is in colour, usually the default option is white (as most classic cinema is in black-and-white).

    The RSDL change occurs at 46:20 during a scene transition that fades to black. This causes no disruption to the main presentation when viewed with the original soundtrack however there is a slight pause in the audio commentary at this point of the film.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio transfer is free from background hiss, pops and crackles, it sounds clean and lively, as is expected from a musical.

     Both audio tracks, the French main soundtrack and the English audio commentary are Dolby Digital 2.0 mono tracks encoded at 224 kbps. Dialogue is clear and synchronised.

     Georges Van Parys, the film’s composer, wrote film scores and operettas during his career. The soundtrack he wrote features many numbers in the style of the late 19th century using string and brass orchestration. This was the only time that Van Parys worked with Renoir as the 1950s was the creative peak of his career. He also scored other French classic films from this period such as Christian-Jaque's Fanfan la Tulipe, Max Ophüls' Madame de... and Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Wages of Fear.

     There is no surround channel usage because the main soundtrack is in mono. The subwoofer is not utilised either.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Audio Commentary by Anna Dzenis and Rick Thompson, lecturers in Cinema Studies at La Trobe University

     At the beginning of this featurette, Rick Thompson states that the viewer should see the film first prior to listening to the commentary. I would concur with this statement as both Dzenis and Thompson discuss plot points that would be better appreciated once the film has been seen. In this commentary Dzenis asks Thompson to elaborate on the film a few times. I enjoyed Thompson's insight into these questions which dealt with the motivation of the main characters, Renoir's film style in his late career and the film's theme of inclusion. This audio commentary is thorough and informative. It is indicative of Madman's commitment to providing quality extras for its Directors Suite releases. For more information on French Cancan you can reference Rick Thompson's Senses of Cinema essay here.

Directors Suite trailers

     Four trailers are included for Jean Renoir's The River, David Lean's Summertime, Hou Hsiao-Hsien's remake of Albert Lamorisse's 1956 short film The Flight of the Red Balloon and Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     French Cancan has been issued in Region 1 in the Unites States as part of a box set entitled Stage & Spectacle: Three Films by Jean Renoir. This box set also includes The Golden Coach which starred Ana Magnani and Elena and her Men which starred Ingrid Bergman. This box-set is packed with extras including introductions by Renoir, Martin Scorsese and Peter Bogdanovich, an interview with designer Max Douy, a three-part interview by Jacques Rivette with Renoir and a superb BBC one hour documentary by David Thompson; Jean Renoir - Hollywood and Beyond. This box-set release also includes essays by Andrew Sarris, Jonathan Rosenbaum and Christopher Faulkner.

     The Region 1 release is fantastic, replete with extras. If you want to see just French Cancan, which was the most successful of the three films at the box-office, then the Region 4 Directors Suite is a good option also, especially as both releases share the same transfer.


     French Cancan is an exceptional effort in the musical genre by Jean Renoir at a time when Hollywood directors such as Vincent Minnelli and Stanley Donen were producing classics of the genre such as An American in Paris and Singin' in the Rain. Look out for Edith Piaf's (France's greatest popular singer of the 20th century) cameo in the film; no doubt her involvement in the film, together with Jean Gabin's lead role helped to make this a huge box-office success in 1955.

     As with The Golden Coach, Madman Entertainment's specialist label Directors Suite has again produced a faithful homage to a great director in its DVD production, with this film notable as being the only standalone release of French Cancan in any DVD Region.

Ratings (out of 5)


© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Monday, April 19, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 020), using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationSony HTDDW1000
SpeakersSony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)

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