PLAYBILL PICKS: The Five Greatest Movies About the Theatre

By Robert Simonson
02 Aug 2012

María Casares and Jean-Louis Barrault in "Children of Paradise."

CHILDREN OF PARADISE: Not every film about the theatre was made in Hollywood. Marcel Carné's film (with a screenplay by Jacques Prévert) was released in 1945. It was made when Paris was occupied by Nazi Germany, and nostalgically looks back at the Parisian theatre scene of the 1820s and 1830s, dwelling particularly on a famed actress, Garance (played by the mono-named Arletty), and her many lovers. Three hours long, and rich with characters, it was described as the French "Gone With the Wind" at the time of its release. As with "42nd Street" and "All About Eve," there was an attempt to bring the story to the stage, by Simon Callow at the RSC in 1996, but the production was a flop.

"I saw this movie in college and remember being quite moved by its mix of innocence and cynicism," said Cote. "It's also nice to see a movie included [in this list] that isn't about glamorizing the American musical." Opined Cashill, "Centered around theatre, the movie, set in a bawdy, freewheeling 19th-century Paris, is full of characters who pretend, and seeing vanities and passions and the stuff of existence back on the screen once the war years ended was a tonic for weary French viewers. Today we enjoy the indelible performances and the heady atmosphere, and marvel at a movie that gets us to contemplate mime, an art our culture threw under the bus long ago." Jean-Louis Barrault plays the mime, one of four men in love with Arletty's character. An upgraded DVD edition and Blu-ray edition of "Children of Paradise" will be released by Criterion on Sept. 18.