I hate to admit it, but the first time I saw this I was in my favorite theater in Paris (Le Grand Action), and I fell asleep. I'm sure it was during one of my "three or four films in a day" binges, and I just couldn't keep my eyes open any longer. Anyway, I think I finally saw it for the first time in its entirety during the Fall of 1996, and it's haunted me ever since.
As I mentioned in my 1930 post, there are great similarities between this film and Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel. I'm sure it's even quite possible that von Sternberg influenced Renoir. But, the Renoir, and Michel Simon's descent (SPOILER!) into absolute depravity, have always felt more rooted in reality (more human, more true) than Jannings' performance.
I once heard the great French director, Claude Chabrol, say that the ideal filmmaker would consist of Renoir's vitality and Fritz Lang's rigor. I'm not sure I don't agree. I've always thought it interesting that Lang only re-made two films in his career and both were originally directed by Jean Renoir (Human Desire was a retread of Renoir's La bete humaine and Scarlet Street of La chienne).
Like The Blue Angel, La chienne is a grand tragedy, and I feel every inch of Michel Simon's hope and then despair. There's a naturalism in Renoir's approach to the film that has always greatly appealed to me. But, more than anything, it's the profoundness of Simon's journey that will always stay with me.
Other contenders for 1931: There are some things I still need to see from this year, most notably: James Whale's Frankenstein, Rene Clair's A nous la liberte, and Josef von Sternberg's Dishonored. I also have never seen Josef von Sternberg's An American Tragedy, DW Griffith's final film The Struggle, GW Pabst's The Threepenny Opera, Lewis Milestone's The Front Page, Dziga Vertov's Enthusiasm, Rene Clair's Le million, and Frank Capra's Platinum Blonde. I am a fan of both The Champ and The Public Enemy, but this is a highly competitive year for me and neither of these films could really compete for my top choice. Then there is M, probably my favorite opening in the history of film, and a film for which I have absolute admiration and respect. But, emotionally I respond more strongly to my top pick and my #1 runner-up, City Lights. This is my favorite Chaplin, and one of my favorite films of all time, but I finally gave the slight edge to the Renoir as Michel Simon's journey in the film still haunts me to this day.
2/28/10 I watched Rene Clair's A nous la liberte. Although I know it's Clair's Modern Times and it has its charming moments, it never quite grabbed me.
3/3/10 I watched Frank Capra's Platinum Blonde. I loved Loretta Young in the film and Robert Williams in his final role. The film though never fully grabbed me.
3/4/10 I watched Rene Clair's Le million. It had some really charming moments, but some of it lost focus and drive for me, particularly during the long scenes of La Boheme.
4/30/10 I watched DW Griffith's The Struggle. It definitely mines some dark and admirable territory, but I can't say it's all fully felt. The wedding party scene when Jimmy disappears is certainly quite devastating though, and Zita Johann exceptionally beautiful.
5/1/10 I watched James Whale's Frankenstein. A bona fide classic. Whale really goes a long way towards humanizing the monster, and scenes like the one he has with the little girl and his final stand are quite moving. Whale also brings a nice playfulness to the proceedings.
5/2/10 I watched GW Pabst's The 3 Penny Opera. I find Pabst's style slightly stodgy, just like I did with his two Louise Brooks films. But this one had some nice moments. I particularly liked when we first meet Mr. Peachum.