La Marseillaise (1938)




Director:  Jean Renoir.

Cast:   Pierre Pierre Renoir (Louis XVI), Lise Delamare (Marie-Antoinette), Lon Larive (Picard, le valet du roi), William Aguet (La Rochefoucauld), Elisa Ruis (La princesse de Lamballe), Germaine Lefbure (Madame lisabeth, soeur du roi), Louis Jouvet (Roederer), Georges Spanelly (La Chesnaye), Jaque Catelain (Le capitaine Langlade), Pierre Nay (Dubouchage), Edmond Castel (Leroux), Aim Clariond (Monsieur de Saint Laurent), Andr Zibral (Monsieur de Saint Merri), Jean Aym (Monsieur de Fauguerolles), IrPne Joachim (Madame de Saint Laurent,  Andrex (Honor Arnaud), Edmond Ardisson (Jean-Joseph Bomier), Paul Dullac (Javel), Jean-Louis Allibert (Moissan), Fernand Flament (Ardisson), Alex Truchy (CuguliPre), Georges Pclet (Un chef marseillais), Nadia SibirskaVa (Louison).

Country:  French film with English subtitles. 

This covers the story of the French Revolution from the fall of the Bastille to the storming of the Tuilleries and the march to Valmy.


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Duke de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt asks the gentleman-in-waiting to speak to the king.  The king is available because he just got back from hunting, but he may be a little tired.  The Duke tells the king that the Parisians have taken the Bastille. 

Provence June 1790. 

Anatole Roux ("Chamois") is caught killing pigeons on an aristocrat's property.  He has to come before a court.  Chamois is to be sent to another court (where he is likely to get the gallows).  The pigeon-killer escapes this fate by escaping through a window.  Chamois heads for the mountains and safety.  Here he meets two friends who have also escaped punishment from the courts.  Their names are Jean Joseph Bomier and Honor Arnaud.  Priest Paget brings food to the fugitives.  The four see the Chateau de Bigeor burning in the distance.  The priest tells the two friends that it is time for them to return to Marseille.  It's time to get rid of the aristocrats. 

Marseille October 1790. 

A decision is made to seize the three forts that threaten the city.  Honor Arnaud is the leader of the force set to take one of the forts. Two men are able to enter the fort by posing as deliverers of a huge barrel of wine.  Inside the barrel is not wine but Bomier with two pistols.  Once inside the fort Bomier is able to get the drop on the guards.  The republicans are then able to let their men into the fort.  The commandant of the fort arrives.  He tells the republicans to surrender, but the men just laugh at him.  He is to be sent to Germany. 

A bunch of French royalists live abroad.  They plan to help the Austrians and Prussians attack France in order to keep the republicans in check.  The leader of the forces is the Duke of Brunswick.  Most of the expatriates arrived two years ago.  Among them is the commandant of the fort taken by Arnaud and his men. 

Valenciennes April 1792. 

French refugees flee the Austrians. One reports that the Austrians burned their village.  The French aristocrats are with them  -- the army of Coblentz. 

Marseille will send a voluntary battalion to the north to Paris.  Bomier's friends are all signing up for the battalion, but Bomier does not.  His friends don't understand why he won't sign up for the battalion.  Later we learn that Bomier cannot go because he has unpaid debts and no debtors are allowed.  He is a bit depressed by this.  His mother, however, comes up with a solution.  She sells a vineyard to pay his debts.  This clears the way for Bomier to join the battalion and he does so. 

A song that has becomes known as the Marseillaise becomes very popular.  Bomier says that he does not think much of it.  The men of the battalion receive some basic training.  Bomier and his friends become even more closely bound to each other.  Later Bomier changes his mind about the song and says that it will unite all Frenchmen. 

The battalion now begins to march to Paris.  The march is a long one.  When they finally arrive in Paris, they are warmly welcomed by the Parisians. The battalion comes in singing the Marseillaise.  The crowd cheers them on.  Some of the women kiss the soldiers.  A group of aristocrats belittles the republicans and start a fight  with them.  The men from Marseille join in and chase the aristocrats from the area. 

The Duke of Brunswick has produced a manifesto.  The king asks his advisers if the Brunswick Manifesto should be made public.  The decision is made to send a copy of the manifesto to the Assembly.  The conservatives like the manifesto, but the republicans hate it.  The republicans are so mad that a call goes out for the king's disposition.  If the king does not withdraw his veto or take suitable measures for national defense, then the Assembly will be given one week to depose the king.  If the Assembly cannot handle the matter, then the people will attack the king and his forces.

Bomier becomes very close with a pretty young woman named Louison.  He tells her that he now wants to live in Paris. 

The signal for the revolt of the people will be a cannon fired from Pont Saint-Michel.  Then church bells will toll letting the revolutionary citizens know that it is time for action.  The people will go to the the palace gates.

The cannon sounds and the church bells toll.  The plan at the palace is to let the mob enter through the palace gates whereupon they will be hit with cannon and musket fire.  The queen reminds the king to review his troops, which he does.  Some of the troops hail the king, but others hail the new notion of the French nation, not the king.  As the king walks around, one can see that there are sand bags strategically placed everywhere in the palace. 

A man named Roederer asks to speak with the king.  He and his men are from the Department of Paris.  He tells the king that resistance is useless, all Paris marches.  The king must seek the protection of the Assembly and so must go alone (with only a small guard and the ministers with him) with the escort provided by the Department of Paris.  The king agrees and the plan is set in motion. 

But the people still want into the palace.  A large log is used by a number of men to bust open the palace gates.   The Marseille battalion marches into the palace courtyard.  They face the National Guard.  The call goes out for the National Guard to join the people and they do so.  The two units of men hug each other.  But there is still the Swiss Guard and other forces who are not so willing to go over to the side of the people.  Bomier is one of those who tries to talk with the men of the Swiss Guard to sway them.  But all of a sudden Bomier is shot down and then widespread shooting from the king's forces begins.  The republicans are forced out of the palace courtyard completely and are chased down the streets. 

Bomier is brought out of the palace to temporary safety.  Louison is found and brought to Bomier.  He dies in her arms. 

All of a sudden, the forces supporting the king come running back to the palace.  They ran smack up against an immense group of soldiers and armed citizens and had to flee for their lives.  The palace easily falls to the republicans.  The military leaders are rounded up and executed by firing squads.  The Swiss Guard is in the process of being executed.  In the name of the Paris Commune, Roederer appears again at the palace, this time with the order to stop the execution of the Swiss Guard.

The Marseille battalion joins with the other republican forces to fight against the Austrians and Prussians to push them out of France. 


Good movie.  Got another take on the French Revolution.  And got more information about the king versus the Assembly and the people.  Usually the focus is on the suffering of the people of France and then the action they take to start the French Revolution and then it stops.  This movie is like the French Revolution Part II.  And that's good.  My wife would not have liked the film.  It has a lot of historical facts and is somewhat involved.  She saw a piece of it and said it looked like some old-fashioned film.  (Yes, but it was still interesting.)  I thought Edmond Ardisson as Jean-Joseph Bomier was very good and very funny. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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