Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Is Paris Burning?" Lacks Warmth

Cleveland Press December 21, 1966

The real star of "Is Paris Burning?" is the city of Paris itself. Its other performers are miscast, the film's direction is uneven, its development is confused.

At first shudder one would think that the book by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre -- a work that is mammoth, sprawling and heavily documented -- would defy transferring to the screen. But the moviemakers got so close and then failed that the conclusion is inescapable that a noteworthy motion picture was lost through fumbling.

The movie is faithful to individual incidents in the best-seller but unfaithful to history. The book made clear that the liberation of Paris was not simply a struggle between Germans and the Allied forces.

There the internal differences among the resistance groups, the Gaullists vs. the Communists. There was the Allied timetable that didn't figure on an immediate liberation. And there was Hitler's insistence that Paris be destroyed.

ALL THESE HISTORICAL FACTORS would have provided dramatic conflict, even a little suspense -- we all know Paris didn't burn, but how close was it and what were the risks?

Neither the Gaullists nor the Communist resistance groups are clearly identified, nor are their differences explained. This attempt to avoid annoying present groups in France gives the movie a curiously pasteurized, homogenized effect.

Gert (Goldfinger) Frobe is Gen. von Choltitz, the man ordered by Hitler to destroy Paris and the only continuing character in the movie.

His indecision promises a dimensional character in the beginning, but the characterization is soon lost in the mishmash of other incidents and other people.

A STRANGELY SUBDUED ORSON WELLES is Nordling, the Swedish consul.

Other performers are overly familiar faces that appear briefly and then disconcertingly disappear. Who cares that the woman behind the bar in a seconds-long tavern scene is Simone Signoret, or that the anonymous GI with a few lines of dialog is Tony Perkins? This is less a movie than a game of guess-the-stars.

Jean-Paul Belmondo as a member of the resistance who occupies the prime minister's residence is not able to hide the fact that he is a clown; and Jean-Pierre Cassel, also of the lighter school of acting, hardly seems right as a French lieutenant.

BUT WORST OF ALL is the sudden, brief appearance of Kirk Douglas as Gen. Patton and then a glimpse of Glenn Ford identified as Omar Bradley. They never return which is unlike "Longest Day" where well-known faces served to identify people as they moved in and out of the story's fabric. Douglas and Ford seem less like historical figures than a couple of American cowboys called in to save Paris.

The movie was filmed in Paris, one element in its favor with the city's historic landmarks playing significant parts.

Director Rene Clemont is better at directing small, intimate scenes than big ones. The movement of large forces is awkward and agonizingly slow.