Film Fiasco: Mon oncle Antoine

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WARNING! WARNING! WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD — THOUGH I RECOMMEND THAT YOU AVOID THE FILM REVIEWED HERE.

This is a review of Mon oncle Antoine, a 1971 French-Canadian film. The film is set at Christmastime in a remote village in Quebec, the main adornment of which is the mountainous pile of dirt leavings (or whatever they’re called) at an asbestos mine.

The story starts with Jos Poulin working at the mine. Jos doesn’t like the job, so he quits and goes to work at a logging camp. Jos doesn’t like that job either, so he wanders home.

In the meantime there’s Benoit, a 15 year old who lives with his Uncle Antoine and Aunt Cecile. Antoine and Cecile own the general store, and Antoine is also the local undertaker. Antoine and Cecile employ a clerk named Fernand, who is also the undertaker’s assistant. They also employ a girl of about 15 named Carmen, who lives with them. Her father drops by on payday to collect Carmen’s pay. Carmen seem to be an unhappy person. She and Benoit lust after each other, but nothing comes of it.

Benoit is an altar boy. He drinks from the bottle of communion wine, then he watches the priest do the same thing, so that’s okay.

On Christmas Eve, Jos’s oldest son, Marcel, dies. Jos doesn’t know this because he’s still slogging home from the logging camp. Antoine goes to fetch the body, but he takes Benoit instead of Fernand with him for no discernible reason other than to allow Cecile to play Cougar to Fernand. So she does. And they do.

Antoine and Benoit set out by horse-drawn sleigh to collect Marcel’s body. Although it’s the late 1940s (or the late 1960s, judging by the shortness of Carmen’s dress), Antoine doesn’t seem to have an automobile. But if he had one the main event of the film wouldn’t have happened, and the film would be more pointless than it is.

The main event is this: After arriving at the Poulin house with the pine box for Marcel’s body, Marcel’s mother offers Antoine and Benoit a meal, of which Antoine partakes in a rather crude fashion — grunting and belching all the while. Oh, he’s also drinking from the 1.5 litre bottle of grappa (or something more lethal) that he brought along for the trip. Antoine and Benoit get Marcel’s body into the pine box and onto the back of the sleigh. And off they go, as Antoine continues to chug the bottle of grappa. When Antoine falls asleep (or into a semi-comatose state), Benoit decides to liven things up by stirring the horse into action. Now the thing that I expected to happen does happen. The pine box containing Marcel’s body slides off the back of the sleigh.

Benoit brings the sleigh to a halt about 100 feet from the box. After pounding on Antoine to bring him to half-awakeness, they trudge to the box, which Antoine is unable to budge because his muscles have turned to mush after so many oral doses of grappa. He cries about his wasted life.

Antoine and Benoit return to the store — which, cozily, is also where Antoine, Cecile, Benoit, Carmen, and Fernand live. Benoit, of course, opens the door to Cecile’s boudoir to find Fernand there. Some muttering (but no violence) ensues before Fernand and Benoit set off to retrieve the box. Benoit, amazingly and despite the remarkable event that has just befallen him, can’t remember which of two possible routes to follow back to the box.

Well, it doesn’t matter. Because they eventually arrive back at the Poulin house, sans box, which has somehow transported itself into the Poulin’s parlor. There, the wandering Jos and his family are kneeling around the open box, staring at the dead Marcel. And wondering, no doubt, why the hell they agreed to act in such a pointless film.

But maybe they knew that it would someday be voted the best Canadian film of all time. I’d hate to see the second-best one.

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Three Now-Obscure Actors

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The 1950s were as dull as they’re made out to be. (Oh, to have them back!) Among the landmarks of that dull decade were three actors who, between them, seemed to appear almost every night on one TV drama or another: Henry Jones (1912-1999), John Newland (1917-2000), and Harry Townes (1914-2001). All three had long acting careers, and Newland was also a producer and director. But you probably can’t put faces with the names. Here they are:

Henry Jones
Henry Jones

 

John Newland
John Newland

 

Harry Townes
Harry Townes

Untimely Deaths

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The late Prince Rogers Nelson (a.k.a. Prince), a late-20th and early-21st century “musician,” seems to have died of the usual causes. Some will call his death untimely because of the relatively early age at which he succumbed. I can easily think of many real musicians who died before or at the age of 57. The following eclectic list of names (with biographical links), gives the age at which each musician died and a link to a representative recording of his or her work:

Russ Columbo, 26, “Goodnight Sweetheart” (1931)

Bix Beiderbecke, 28, “Somebody Stole My Gal” (1928)

Jimmie Rodgers, 35, “Blue Yodel Number 1 (T for Texas)” (ca. 1930)

Fritz Wunderlich, 35, “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz“* (ca. 1965)

Joseph Schmidt, 38, “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz“* (1930s)

Glenn Miller, 40, “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” (1941)

Kathleen Ferrier, 41, “Ombra mai fù“** (1949)

Helen Morgan, 41, “Body and Soul” (1930)

Al Bowlly, 43, “Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?” (1933)

Django Reinhardt, 43, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” (with the Quintette of the Hot Club of France, 1937)

Bessie Smith, 43, “St. Louis Blues” (1925)

Mildred Bailey, 44, “Georgia on My Mind” (1931)

Franklyn Baur, 47, “When My Dreams Come True” (1929)

Enrico Caruso, 48, “Questo o quella” (1908)

Leonard Warren, 48, “Largo al factotum” (1940s or 1950s)

Jussi Björling, 49, “Duet” (from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, 1940s or 1950s, with Robert Merrill)

Tommy Dorsey, 51, “Daddy Change Your Mind” (1929)

Jimmy Dorsey, 53, “Oodles of Noodles” (1932)

Ma Rainey, 53, “Farewell Daddy Blues” (1924)

Richard Tauber, 56, “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz“* (1920s or 1930s)

James Melton, 57, “Make Believe” (1932)

__________
* I chose the same song for Wunderlich, Schmidt, and Tauber just for the fun of it. “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” is from Franz Lehár‘s The Land of Smiles (1929). The song, like many of Lehár’s, was written for Tauber, who had the perfect voice for Lehár’s lushly romantic melodies.

** If Ferrier’s rendition doesn’t send a chill up your spine and cause you to choke up, you had better check yourself for a pulse.

 

Whither Francis Underwood?

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If you’re addicted to the Netflix version of the House of Cards, you’re probably wondering whether and how President Francis Underwood will get his comeuppance. I have long guessed that he will meet a fate similar to that of his British counterpart, Prime Minister Francis Urquhart (pronounced urk-ert), of the BBC’s House of Cards trilogy. (SPOILER WARNING: Don’t follow the links in the preceding sentence if you haven’t seen the BBC series and don’t want to know how it ended.)

I base my guess on the many parallels between the main characters of the BBC and Netflix series; for example, their initials are FU, both have a right-hand man named Stamper, both are murderers, both have Lady Macbeth-like wives, and both rose to power by arranging the disgrace and resignation of their predecessors.

There’s another crucial similarity: Francis Urquhart is staunchly conservative in his rhetoric, and his evil ways are obviously meant to discredit conservatism and the British Conservative Party. Francis Underwood is a Democrat, but a nowadays rare Southern Democrat who sometimes deploys conservative rhetoric. Many viewers and most Democrats will be happy if FU II shares the fate of FU I.

By the way, I’m not binge-watching HOC IV. It may be a few weeks before I finish the series. So if HOC IV turns out to be the final series and you already know the fate of FU II, please don’t reveal it in a comment.