Diary of a Chambermaid, The (1946)

“From now on I’m going to fight hard, and I don’t care who gets hurt, just so it’s not me.”

Diary Chambermaid Poster

Synopsis:
A French chambermaid (Paulette Goddard) aspires to marry a wealthy man and become mistress of her own household. Meanwhile, she’s tasked with keeping the grown son (Hurd Hatfield) of her employers (Judith Anderson and Reginald Owen) happy during his visit home, and finds herself falling in love.

Genres:

Review:
Burgess Meredith both co-starred in and wrote the screenplay for this unusual Hollywood comedy by Jean Renoir, starring Meredith’s then-wife Paulette Goddard in the title role. Loosely based on an epistolary novel by Octave Mirbeau, it tells the tale of a beautiful, feisty chambermaid who is quite rightly fed up with scrubbing floors, and determined to seduce a wealthy man, no matter his age. This leads to a dalliance with a wacky older captain (Meredith) living next door, but her pursuits are temporarily delayed by a sudden and inexplicable infatuation with dour Hurd Hatfield, who seems utterly mismatched for her spunky spirit. Meanwhile, the household’s equally ill-humored butler (Francis Lederer) begins to show hints of interest in Goddard, and plots to take advantage of his mistress’s long-earned trust in him. Unfortunately, none of this is particularly compelling or amusing, and the actors are so broadly directed that they emerge more as caricatures than sympathetic people. Goddard somehow manages to remain compelling throughout, but we can’t help wishing she had a better screenplay to work with. This film has numerous diehard fans — including Peary, who lists it as a Personal Recommendation — but I must say I’m not one of them.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Paulette Goddard as Celestine
    Diary Chambermaid Godard

Must See?
No, though fans of Renoir will surely be curious to check it out. Listed as a film with Historical Importance (I’m not sure why) and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

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2 Responses to “Diary of a Chambermaid, The (1946)”

  1. Boy, do I agree with you. I just saw it for the first time tonight and what a stinker. It’s hard to believe this is the same director as “Rules of the Game,” etc.

  2. First viewing. Not a must – and rather in agreement with the review (tho I would not classify this at all as a comedy).

    Goddard gives us a surprisingly natural performance here, but it’s true that the screenplay is working against her efforts to a degree. She and the film are most successful during the exposition; we’re led to believe the film will be more interesting than it turns out to be. At 87 minutes, the film seems truncated somehow and character development gets a bit of heave-ho.

    Overall, the cast is not bad exactly – it’s just that they don’t seem to have enough to play. Or maybe they do but what goes on is not all that compelling.

    The actor who seems to shine most consistently is Irene Ryan as the maid Louise. I found I couldn’t stop watching her because her sideline character remains clear and varied inside a story that’s a little haphazard. (Ryan’s performance here is especially eye-opening for those who mostly know her from the 10 years she spent as Granny Clampett on ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’. As a sidebar, I saw her in the Bway musical ‘Pippin’ shortly before she passed away…backstage, as it turns out, apparently right after performing her one musical number.)

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