13 April 2021

Claude Autant-Lara's Fric-Frac (1939)

A fric-frac is a break-in. Claude Autant-Lara's Fric-Fric is a perfectly harmless comedy, and although Maurice Lehmann is given in the screen credits as the director of this film it's generally known that Autant-Lara was largely respoonsible for it: he preferred to keep a low profile after the disaster of Ciboulette (1933), and Arletty (here playing Loulou) said as much herself.

Marcel (Fernandel) played the clerk working for the jeweller Mercandieu with his daughter Renée (Hélène Robert). She's (unbelievably) besotted by him, although Marcel shows no interest, especially when he meets Loulou who's with her improbable sidekick Jo (Michel Simon), the small-time thief who also makes his 'living' swindling people at the illegal card game bonneteau*.

An interesting thing is that Marcel – a typical 'cave' or sucker – not only doesn't notice that Loulou and Jo are small-time crooks, but that he finds the slang they use exotic, and he even has Renée asking in the office what 'doudounes' (tits) are. Loulou and Jo extract information about the jeweller's from Marcel and tie him up, although Renée catches them in the act of the fric-frac and Marcel is more or less forced into marrying Renée and eventually taking over the business when Mercandieu eventually retires. All very unlikely, but nevertheless a very likeable film.

*Bonneteau is set up in busy city streets – particularly if they're frequented by wealthy tourists – which probably explains why I've usually seen it in the Montmartre tourist stretch. It's a highly organised set-up normally using cardboard boxes as tables, with different fake players to encourage gullible punters to raise the stakes, and some members of the team watching out for the keufs. I only recently learned that it's played throughout the world and known as 'Find the lady' in English.

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