THE FRENCH WAY (1945), a wartime comedy-romance-musical starring the legendary Josephine Baker, will be shown at Film Forum on Sunday, February 25 at 1:10 pm. Unseen for over 60 years, the movie will be introduced by archivist Jeff Joseph, who found the long-lost negative and oversaw the film’s restoration.
Micheline Presle and Georges Marchal must play Romeo and Juliet because of an only-in-France feud: did or did not Presle’s great grandmother actually sleep with Napoleon? Upstairs tenant/cabaret star Josephine Baker is enlisted to distract Marchal but plays Cupid — and sings and dances — instead.
Shot in 1940 before the German invasion, its original title Fausse alerte (False Alarm) satirized life in the Parisian air raid shelters. Unreleased until after the war, and not released in U.S. until 1952, it has been unseen since.
Josephine Baker (1906 – 1975) was born in St. Louis and endured a childhood of extreme poverty before beginning her career as a dancer in vaudeville at 15 years old. Still in her teens, Baker moved to New York, where she became a popular chorus girl in hugely successful Broadway revues like Shuffle Along and The Chocolate Dandies. Exhausted by American racism, Baker moved to Paris at the age of 19 and became a sensation with the “Danse Sauvage,” performed in her iconic skirt of artificial bananas. As her celebrity grew, she became one of the greatest stars of the French music hall and star of several movies, including Siren of the Tropics, Zouzou, and Princess Tam Tam.
During World War II, Baker, forced to leave German-occupied France, served as an “honorable correspondent,” collecting intelligence at parties and events; supplied members of the Free French movement with visas; and aided the Resistance in North Africa. At the end of the war, she received the Croix de guerre and the Rosette de la Résistance, and was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur. Later in life, Baker enjoyed worldwide performance success (including in the U.S., where she refused to perform for segregated audiences), and was a vocal supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, working with the NAACP and speaking at the March on Washington.
Jeff Joseph is co-author of the book A Thousand Cuts: The Bizarre Underground World of Collectors and Dealers Who Saved the Movies. He is available for interviews.
Earlier in the day on February 25, as part of our weekly Film Forum JR. kids’ series at 11 am, Mr. Joseph will introduce his stunning new restorations of Laurel & Hardy’s The Battle of the Century, featuring the biggest pie fight in movie history, and their iconic Sons of the Desert. The silent Battle of the Century, which was recently added to the National Film Registry, will feature live piano accompaniment by Steve Sterner.
DCP | 90 Min.
Director: Jacques de Baroncelli | Writer: Michel Duran
Cinematographer: Jean Bachelet | Music: Wal Berg
Film Forum’s Repertory Calendar is programmed
by Bruce Goldstein.
More information at Film Forum website