THE DVD SHELF: The Original French Laugh Hit "La Cage aux Folles" and Richard Burton as "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold"

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22 Sep 2013

One understands how and why things were changed for the musical. Start with that word, "musical." This means songs, and given that La Cage aux Folles is centered around the nightclub "La Cage aux Folles," the chorus of the club becomes the chorus of the musical. In the film, there is one dance number in the club, during the opening. In the musical, the so-called Cagelles become featured players with songs and dialogue as well. Once you base the musical numbers in the club — and one presumes Cabaret was very much a model — Albin inevitably becomes the musical comedy star of the proceedings.

The purveyors of the musical did exceptionally well, of course, and need have no regrets. But in my view, "La Cage," be it on screen or stage, is Georges' story: how does he support Laurent's engagement without demeaning his long-time partner Albin, who has served as the boy's de facto mother? Albin is very much indispensable to the plot, as the elephant in the closet (if you will); but this story is about Georges, and in the musical he gets shunted aside by all those wigs and sequins —  which was precisely what the vast majority of the musical comedy audience wanted in 1983, it turns out.

Serrault, who created the role of Albin on stage, is less prominent than Georges in the film — but then, he doesn't have the song about putting on his mascara and that stirring first act anthem of self-worth. Tognazzi, for me, is the one who makes "La Cage" so droll. Major assists come from Serrault, Claire Maurier as Simone, Benny Luke as Jacob and Michel Galabru as the detestable father of the bride.

Among the special features on this new digital restoration is archival footage of the Serrault and Poiret act long before "La Cage" and an interesting interview with director Molinaro. In the latter, he mentions he was so certain that the film was a surefire disaster that he ordered his friends not to see it. He also discusses how difficult a time he had with Tognazzi, who apparently hated the material and refused to speak his lines in French. This did not prevent the pair from reuniting for the 1980 sequel, though.

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Those of us who grew up in the late fifties and early sixties couldn't help but be aware of a something like a shadow on our existence, the unclear but ominous knowledge that a major threat was out there somewhere. Your typical child in those "Leave It to Beaver" days wasn't much interested in far-removed ideological threats. Even so, we couldn't avoid awareness of Sputnik, Khrushchev at the U.N. (with his shoe), The Bay of Pigs, The Berlin Crisis and more. This was all brought back to me as I watched Martin Ritt's 1965 Cold War thriller, "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" [Criterion].



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