“The French Way” (“Fausse alerte”)
Josephine Baker and Young Love
I have always heard what a tremendous performer Josephine Baker was but I had never been lucky enough to see ant footage f the real Miss Baker until I received a copy of this new Blu ray rerelease of “The French Way”. I was amazed at her homeliness when in plain clothes but when she was in costume and on the stage performing she was amazing. Any story for this movie is necessary—when there is Baker, we need nothing else.
Josephine Baker rose from a childhood living in a St. Louis slum to the toast of France where she captivated audiences through the stage, recordings and motion pictures, and you’ll get to see why in “The French Way”, a farcical romantic-comedy set in contemporary WWII France, about young lovers forbidden to marry by their respective families. Baker, as Zazu, the owner of a nightclub, inherits a job restoring harmony between the two families and allowing the young lovers to marry. French character actors add to the fun but when Josephine’s on the screen she is “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw” as Ernest Hemingway once said .”The French Way” was filmed in 1940 (amidst bombing raids) and then released in France in 1945, and briefly shown in the USA in 1952 where the order of some scenes was changed and about 2-3 minutes of dramatic footage was cut. Josephine Baker aided the French Resistance and was awarded, among other honors, the Croix de Guerre by the French military.
.Josephine Baker said that the reason she decided to reside in France was because it was a country where “she wasn’t afraid to be black”. Her skin color doesn’t factor into the plot. This is one of Baker’s lesser vehicles, because despite her top billing, she is only one part of an ensemble cast. She plays a nightclub owner determined to help two young lovers convince their feuding parents to consent their marriage. Her effortless charm, charisma, and beauty carry the entire film in a few all too infrequent cabaret numbers. She sings and dances her way through “To Live Alone under One Roof” and “No Nina.”
The plot is pretty silly. It’s a “Romeo & Juliet” story with two young lovers who want to be together but their parents (both single as the film starts) hate each other and don’t want their offspring to marry or even to date. The songs and dance numbers are not very long but we do hear a lot of them. This is the first Josephine Baker movie on HD home video, and while it may not be her greatest, but it is still a small treasure. The video quality is beautiful.