Director: Jacques Becker
Production: Spéva Films and Paris-Film-Production; black and white, 35mm; running time: 96 minutes. Released 16 April 1952, Paris. Filmed fall 1951 in Paris-Studio-Cinema studios at Billancourt, and at Annet-Sur-Marne, France.
Producer: Henri Baum; screenplay: Jacques Becker and Jacques Companeez; photography: Robert Le Fèbvre; editor: Marguerite Renoir; sound engineer: Antoine Petitjean; art direction: Jean d'Eaubonne; music: Georges Van Parys; costumes: Mayo.
Cast: Simone Signoret (Marie); Serge Reggiani (Manda); Claude Dauphin (Félix Leca); William Sabatier (Roland); Gaston Modot (Danard); Loleh Bellon (Léonie Danard); Paul Azais (Ponsard); Jean Clarieux (Paul); Roland Lesaffre (Anatole); Emile Genevois (Billy); Claude Castaing (Fredo); Daniel Mendaille (Patron Guinguette); Dominque Davray (Julie); Pierre Goutas (Guillaume); Fernand Trignol (Patron of l'Ange Gabriel); Paul Barge (Inspector Juliani); Leon Pauleon (Conductor); Tony Corteggiani (Commissioner); Roger Vincent (Doctor); Marcel Melrac (Policeman); Marcel Rouze (Policeman); Odette Barencey (Adèle); Yvonne Yma (Patron of l'Ange Gabriel); Paquerette (Grandmother); Pomme (Concierge).
Becker, Jacques, and Jacques Companeez, "Casque d'or" in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), December 1964.
Armes, Roy, French Cinema Since 1946, Volume 1: The GreatTradition, New York, 1970.
Beylie, Claude, and Freddy Buache, Jacques Becker: Études, textes,et scénarios inédits, entretiens, témoignages, florilège critique,filmographie, Locarno, 1991.
Vey, Jean-Louis, Jacques Becker, ou, La fausse évidence, Lyon, 1995.
Roche, Catherine de la, "The Stylist," in Films and Filming (London), March 1955.
Lisbona, Joseph, "Microscope Director," in Films and Filming (London), December 1956.
"Becker," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1960.
Truffaut, François, "De vraies moustaches," in Avant-Scène duCinéma (Paris), December 1964.
Perez Guillermo, Gilberto, "Jacques Becker: 2 Films," in Sight andSound (London), Summer 1969.
Amengual, Barthélemy, in Cahiers de la Cinématheque (Perpignan), Spring 1976.
Combs, Richard, in Listener (London), October 1985.
Andrew, D., "L'identite a jamais perdue du cinéma francais," in Cinemaction (Conde-sur-Noireau, France), no. 1, 1993.
Howard, T., "Casque d'Or," in Reid's Film Index (New South Wales, Australia), no. 15, 1995.
* * *
The benign influence of Jean Renoir, with whom Jacques Becker worked for eight years as assistant director, can be clearly felt in the warm humanity that suffuses Casque d'or. Not that the film is in the least derivative; it is unmistakably a Becker film in its central concern with love and friendship (shown here as entirely complementary affections, not as opposed loyalties), and in its richly detailed evocation of period and milieu. The world of petty criminals and prostitutes in fin-de-siècle Paris is presented simply and directly—not romanticized, nor rendered gratuitously squalid, but seen as a complex, living community in its own right. And although the plot (based on a true story, which Becker found in court reports of the period) recounts a tragic sequence of treachery, murder, and death by guillotine, Casque d'or is far from depressing; on the contrary, its lasting impression is of optimism and affirmation.
This effect derives from the strength and veracity with which Becker delineates the film's central relationship. As Marie, from whose golden hair the film takes its title, Simone Signoret gives a performance of ripe sensuality, well matched by Serge Reggiani's Manda, convincingly revealing both tenderness and tenacity beneath an appearance of taciturn frailty. Their brief, sunlit idyll together in the countryside is shot through with an erotic intensity that eschews the least trace of prurience. That the power of such love can outlast even death is suggested by the film's final image, in which, after Marie has watched Manda die on the guillotine, we see the lovers dancing slowly, endlessly down the now empty terrace of the riverside cafe at which they first met, to the ghostly strains of their first waltz.
"My characters obsess me much more than the story itself. I want them to be true." Casque d'or is notably free of caricatures or stock types; around his two protagonists, Becker assembles a vivid gallery of subsidiary characters, each one individually depicted, no matter how briefly. There is no weakness in the story, either: the narrative moves with steady, unforced momentum from the opening sunlit scene on the river (irresistibly recalling Une Partie de campagne), through the gathering darkness of the fatal confrontation in a drab backyard when Manda stabs Marie's former lover, to end with Marie's bleak nocturnal vigil in a room overlooking the place of execution—before the brief coda returns us to the sunshine and the riverbank. "In my work," Becker wrote, "I do not want to prove anything except that life is stronger than everything else."
Surprisingly, Casque d'or was coldly received by the French critics on its initial release. In Britain, however, the film was enthusiastically acclaimed for its visual beauty, evocative period atmosphere, and fine performances. It is now generally agreed to be the outstanding masterpiece of Becker's regrettably short filmmaking career, offering the most completely realized statement of his abiding concern with, and insight into, the rich complexity of human relationships.