The Paris Cinema Project

I underestimated the Nazis’ desire to get Parisian film culture back to something resembling that of the pre-war period. In a previous blog post about the Occupation, I wrote that the Nazis had reopened cinemas after the French surrender only very slowly and very selectively, so that by 1943 there were around 45 locations for seeing movies in the city, a number that remained stable until the intense fighting that marked the 1944 Liberation of Paris. I noted, as well, that most of those cinemas were in the center of Paris, in the most affluent neighborhoods, and that no cinemas had reopened on the outskirts of the city.

Well, I was wrong. I based that original post on the cinema listings in Ciné-Mondial, the French-language Nazi movie magazine for all of France, but with a concentration on Paris. Starting a year or two into the Occupation, the monthly magazine listed those 45 cinemas and the movies they showed. Just the other day, though, I found another source in the online holdings of the Bibliothèque nationale, the weekly Comoedia, the “hebdomadaire des spectacles des lettres et des arts.” While Ciné-Mondial had been a creation of the Occupation, the no-less collaborationist Comoedia had been around since 1906, telling Parisians about each week’s varied cultural activities in their city. And they included complete film listings.


The issue of Comoedia from 28 June 1941

The first available Comoedia from the Occupation comes from late-June 1941, and it shows that just one year after the French surrender and the brief closure of all 220 or so Parisian cinemas, the Nazis had reopened around 150 exhibition sites throughout the city. These would indeed be concentrated in the most well-heeled parts of Paris, with the “cinemas d’exclusivités” in the second, seventh, eighth, and ninth arrondissements. But there were also cinemas on the periphery, the “cinémas des quartiers,” in the twentieth arrondissement, for example, around Menilmontant, where the Pyrénées showed films, and, later in the year, the Avron, a photo of which rests on top of this blog. So too were a few cinemas open in the equally working class nineteenth arrondissement at the northeastern edge of the city, as well as in the fourteenth and fifteenth in the south.

In fact, it seems as if reopening all of these cinemas was more important to the Germans than having enough films to fill them. French films, of course, dominated these screens, but there were far more reprises than new films while the production side of the German-controlled French film industry got itself up to speed. There were also a number of German films that very likely hadn’t played in Paris before, as well as some Italian movies; of course, there were no American or British films playing in Paris, precisely the films that had had such a dominant place in the city’s cinemas before the war.

The newest French films—and there weren’t many—were playing at the most prestigious cinemas. L’enfer des anges, for instance, from 1941 and directed by Christian-Jaque, played at the Ciné-Opéra on the avenue de l’Opéra in the second arrondissement, and Maurice Tourneur’s Volpone, also from 1941 and with two great stars, Harry Baur and Louis Jouvet, showed at the Marivaux just a few blocks away on the boulevard des Italiens. Elsewhere in the second, where cinemas before the war had shown the most recent films from Europe and the United States, movie fans had to settle for reprises. They might go to the boulevard des Italiens to see Charles Boyer in Orage, from 1938, at the Imperial-Pathé or Pierre Larquey in La Grifée du hasard, from 1937, at the Cineac Italiens. On the boulevard Poissonière, they might watch Boyer yet again in Marcel L’Herbier’s Le Bonheur (1935) at the Parisiana, or the 1937 Italian film La grande révolte (Condottiere) at the Gaumont.

Marivaux 1941

The Marivaux cinema on the boulevard des Italiens in 1941

German films played throughout Paris during those last couple of weeks in June 1941. The great star Zarah Leander appeared in two movies. Première, from 1937, played throughout Paris, at the Voltaire-Aubert Palace in the eleventh arrondissement, for example, and also at the Montrouge-Aubert-Palace in the fourteenth. The film she made for Douglas Sirk in the same year, La Habanera, also showed in the city, and a fairly new German movie, Musique de rêve (Traummusik, 1940), played at several cinemas, including the massive, Egyptian-style Louxor-Pathé on the boulevard Magenta in the tenth arrondissement as well as the Pyrenées in the twentieth. And, as one might expect, that 1940 hommage to anti-semitism, Le juif Suss (Jud Süss) also showed in Paris, at the Jeanne D’Arc in the thirteenth.

Parisiana Occupation

The Parisiana cinema in the second arrondissement during the Occupation

Mostly, though, there were French films, and most of them were older, some of them quintessentially French, like Marcel Pagnol’s César (1936), or movies with popular French stars, not only Boyer, Jouvet, and Baur, but also Maurice Chevalier in Julien Duvivier’s L’homme du jour (1937) playing in the nineteenth arrondissement and also Danielle Darrieux; a film of hers from 1932, Le Coffret de laque, an adaptation of an Agatha Christie play, ran in the tenth at the Folies-Dramatiques.

So this was the Parisian film culture the Nazis created. Cinemas open throughout the city, and an international film culture that stressed French and German movies and stars rather than French and American. The last available issue of Comoedia comes from Christmas, 1942. Edith Piaf was performing that week at the cabaret Le Perroquet au Nid, and the great “diseuse” Lucienne Boyer appeared at Le Beaulieu while her husband, Jacques Pills, sang at Le Doge. A few more cinemas had opened in the last year-and-a-half, and the most significant film from the end of 1942 was the Marcel Carné fantasy Les visiteurs du soir, playing at the Madeleine and the Lord Byron, both in the eighth arrondissement.


Les visiteurs du soir, the major attraction in Paris in December 1942

The errors I made in my first post about the Occupation point out some of the difficulties of doing research about the period. The archive of materials can often seem scant, much of it destroyed by the end of the war, or perhaps caught in a bureaucratic shuffle between France and Germany and winding up in scattered, difficult to locate holdings. But I also made the mistake of thinking that Ciné-Mondial might be more thorough than the typical French sources. Newspapers like Le Petit Parisien, l’Humanité, Figaro, and others always gave frustratingly incomplete film listings. They listed no suburban cinemas, and, really, even for Paris they concentrated only on the best first-run locations in the city. Ciné-Mondial showed the same, limited sense of what constituted Parisian film culture, and we’re still very much in need of other materials to help us understand more fully the cinema of the Occupation.



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