Sacha Guitry was once a household name. Something of a Gallic counterpart to Nöel Coward, this disarming, multitalented artist served up some of 1930s French cinema’s tastiest dishes. The son of a beloved theater actor, Guitry was devoted to the footlights, first turning to the silver screen as a way of bringing his plays to a wider audience. His films were anything but stage-bound, however: often the director, writer, and star of his popular movies, Guitry brought a witty inventiveness to the cinema and deployed radical tactics with such aplomb and control that he’s considered one of the medium’s first “complete auteurs.” With these four films, American audiences can finally sample Guitry’s creative, comic confections.
FOUR-DVD BOX SET INCLUDES: THE STORY OF A CHEAT
(Le roman d’un tricheur) Considered Sacha Guitry’s masterpiece, this fleet, witty picaresque about a gambler and petty thief is a whimsical delight. Guitry himself stars as the “tricheur” looking back fondly on a life of crime, which he narrates with an effervescence matched by his clever editing and cinematography. With its rapid storytelling and inventive use of voice-over, The Story of a Cheat’s style has influenced filmmakers from Orson Welles to François Truffaut. 1936THE PEARLS OF THE CROWN
(Les perles de la couronne) Sacha Guitry plays four roles—including King Francis I and Napoleon—in this multilingual whirlwind of pageantry that investigates the fate of three pearls missing from the royal crown of England. Guitry’s first script written directly for the screen rockets through four centuries of European history with imaginative, winking irreverence. DÉSIRÉ
Sacha Guitry exchanges his usual top hat for a uniform in Désiré, in which he plays a cavalier valet embroiled in an awkward flirtation with his new employer (played by the actor-director’s real-life wife, Jacqueline Delubac), who is involved with a stuffy politician. A carefree class farce filled with memorable supporting characters, Désiré blurs the line between upstairs and downstairs. QUADRILLE
A sparkling four-way affair overflowing with dialogue that showcases writer-director Sacha Guitry’s wit, Quadrille stars Guitry as a magazine editor whose longtime girlfriend (whom he hopes to make his fiancée) is uncontrollably drawn to a handsome American movie star. Meanwhile, a discerning reporter (Jacqueline Delubac) watches from the sidelines with amusement and provides the final corner of this romantic rectangle.