The Diary of a Chambermaid
Directed by Jean Renoir
Written by Burgess Meredith, adapted from the novel by Octave Mirbeau and a play by André Heuzé et al
Benedict Bogeaus Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant
Jean Renoir returns to skewering the French ruling classes a la The Rules of the Game. This is OK but lacks the sparkle of the earlier masterpiece. Perhaps if it had been made in French?
Chambermaid Celestine (a blonde Paulette Godard) is heading off to her twelfth position in two years. Having been deceived by numerous men and abused by her employers, she decides to look out for number one, making her highest priority hooking a rich husband. Her first act of independence is to threaten to walk out before she starts when Joseph the valet (Francis Lederer) refuses to take on a plain scullery maid.
The loony master of the house Monsieur Lanlaire (Reginald Owen) initially looks like an easy mark, but Celestine drops that idea when she discovers he has no property in his own name. Then the even more insane next door neighbor Captain Moguer, who specializes in eating flowers and trying almost everything else, seems a likely project. Celestine is scared off when he absent-mindedly crushes a pet squirrel.
Then the Lanlaires receive a visit from their son Georges (Hurd Hatfield). Madame Laniere (Judith Anderson) is determined to keep Georges at home and recruits Celestine to help her do so, dressing the maid in fancy clothes and changing her hairdo. But the ailing, cynical Georges seems initially immune to the girl’s charms. Celestine, on the other hand, seems genuinely to love the son and heir. He doesn’t change his mind until Joseph has revealed his plan to marry Celestine and set himself up in business using his masters’ silver service as start-up capital. Things get darker from there.
Part of the trouble with this film is probably that Renoir did not write the screenplay. Perhaps he thought he was not up to it in his second language. At any rate, this lacks the underlying plot structure needed to unify the mayhem and, although the ending is dark, it did not strike me as profound.