Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932)

Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932)

“Even though he disgusts me, I did save his life.”

A well-meaning bookseller (Charles Granval) rescues an indigent man named Boudu (Michel Simon) from drowning and brings him to his house, where his wife (Marcelle Hainia) and mistress-housekeeper (Severine Lerczinska) are both initially perturbed by Boudu’s uncouth presence, but slowly seduced by his animal-like “charms”.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Bourgeois Society
  • Class Relations
  • Do-Gooders
  • French Films
  • Homeless
  • Jean Renoir Films
  • Play Adaptations

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “comic tribute to Paris’s bums” — directed by Jean Renoir, and based on a play by Rene Fauchois — is “not great Renoir” but remains a “perceptive social comedy” which isn’t “nearly as bad as critics contended in 1967 when it received its first American release”. He points out that “Simon’s movements remind some of Charles Laughton”, and notes how interesting it is that Boudu “is such an unsentimentalized slob — rather than the lovable tramp of the Chaplin tradition”.

However, while modern critics delight in the way Boudu subverts expectations by anarchically refusing to express appreciation for what he’s given, he ultimately comes across as simply an annoying cipher. We learn nothing about his background, and — because he’s such a lout — we care little about him or his future. In fact, this is a rare instance where I prefer the remake — Paul Mazurky’s Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), starring Nick Nolte — to the original, given that both Nolte’s character (as scripted) and performance are more nuanced. While the cinematography in Boudu… is beautiful (see stills below), this one is only must-see viewing for Renoir fans.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Lovely cinematography and framing

Must See?
No, though film fanatics interested in Renoir’s work will likely be curious to check it out.

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “Boudu Saved From Drowning (1932)

  1. First viewing – not must-see.

    I’d known about this title for decades but, for whatever reason, never managed to get to see it. Now that I have, I don’t think it stands up well as a piece of classic cinema.

    What was doubtless intended as light comic entertainment (and a somewhat breezy send-up of ‘guilt among the middle class’) comes across as generally lethargic and strained. The premise is strong-enough but the execution limps along distressingly.

    I actually think Simon’s performance was needlessly indulged (i.e., when he’s ‘let loose’ in the kitchen, it seems a bit much even for a bum).

    Overall, what could easily have been a more cohesive satire appears haphazard.

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