CHAPTER ONE Introduction: Jean Renoir, Past and Present

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Les notions de séparation,
d’absence, de distance, de
retour; si les mots sont
demeurés les mêmes, ils ne
contiennent plus les mêmes
réalités. Pour saisir le
monde aujourd’hui, nous
usons d’un langage qui fut
établi pour le monde d’hier.

~Antoine de Saint

Cinema history must become
a geology.

~Rick Altman


Introduction: Jean Renoir, Past and Present

Jean Renoir is not an American director, or so the story goes. By the time of his
death in 1979, Renoir had directed nearly forty feat
ures, from impressionistic silent films
to politically
oriented Popular Front pictures to international co
productions of the 1950s
and 60s. From 1960 onwards, the vast majority of scholars and film critics set aside the
five feature films

he made in Hol
lywood between 1941 and 1947, establishing through
this omission an elliptical filmography that more neatly

conforms to his status at the top
of the French film canon. That he was the son of impressionist painter Pierre
Renoir and the focus of muc
h of the
Cahiers du cinéma


theory boom in the
1950s and 60s only strengthened his place in the pantheon of French culture. Today, his


Antoine de Saint
Terre des hommes
(Paris: Gallimard, 1939) 50.


Rick Altman, “Dickens, Griffith, and Film Theory Today,”
Classical Hollywood Narrative,

ed. Jane
Gaines (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1992) 42.


Swamp Water

, This Land is Mine

, The Southerner

, Diary of a Chambermaid

Woman on the Beach

(1947). There was also the 1944 propaganda film for the Office of
War Information entitled
A Salute to France
, which was only released to US troops, a French version
Renoir filmed was also made for French audiences but did not se
e wide release. I discuss these films
in chapter four.


position in French film history secure, yet his varied and complex American period
continues to be widely margina
The Cinématheque Française’s 2005 exhibition

featured but one film
from this

period, an adaptation of a nineteenth
century French

Indeed, when they are mentioned at all,
the American movies are
read as parenthetical except
ions that in no way diminish Renoir’s status as a distinctly
French director. Yet if we are to say that Renoir is not

an American director, a closer look
at the films of that era suggests
that he is likewise not wholly French. Thus began my
search for a c
ritical idiom that could more completely

describe the awkward but vital
space occupied by a Frenchman working at the midpoint of his career in Hollywood
during the Second World War.

The long stretch of Renoir’s life and career continues to present the coro
question of how to most accurately
describe the relationship between the films he made
and his biography.

If, as Roland Barthes famously asserted, the need for narrative
extends to all human activity, it is because individuals need a way of controll
perception of events. Renoir, as a writer/director, shaped stories he wanted to tell out of a
series of events. But this need to choose from
infinitely possible options is also the work
of the critic. As a result of Renoir’s long and diverse


much of the criticism tends
to be fragmentary, limited to articles focused on single works or decades. However well
conceived such works may be, no definitive text has been able to adequately assimilate
all the facets of Renoir’s work, least of all those


the American years. André Bazin’s
unfinished book on the director, cut short by his death, seems to symbolize the enormous


This is his 1946 adaptation of Octave Mirbeau’s
Diary of a Chambermaid
. For French audiences the
text continues to stand as his most “French” American film for reasons discussed in chapter four.


effort required to sum up Renoir’s career. And even as renewed interest

the obscure corners of his
the wealth of perspectives paradoxically
frustrates attempts to make
the various

chapters of Renoir’s career fit within a

For those who see Renoir only as an icon of French cinema, the Hollywood
“hiatus” presents the
most contradicto

gap in the portrait of the artist. When these
critics do mention this period, they tend to focus on the
flawed Hollywood system of the
era that prevented studios from fully appreciating and utilizing

Renoir’s talent. My
purpose here is to argue that if

Renoir’s American years demonstrate anything, it is that
Renoir, like his Hollywood contemporaries, adapted film form and content to reflect the

of wartime America. This is not a wholly new observation, yet it is one that has
not been systematically

investigated using the full rang
e of primary and secondary
research materials now available to Renoir scholars
. Extensive use of film archives, for
sheds new light on

old debates: documents often explain the gaps between
Renoir’s Hollywood pro
ductions, showing how he was
constantly pursuing

film ideas

even if Hollywood was not pursuing him. More importantly, such documents illustrate
the ways in which Renoir consistently ado
pted effective artistic compromises as a
director and as an immigrant.

My work on Renoir in Hollywood thus begins with the premise, shared by several
contemporary scholars, that this seemingly disparate period must be viewed as a

unit of his filmography
. The difference lies in where each scholar
ocates the relevance.

My own refusal to insist on binaries (French vs. American,


Hollywood vs. Europe, political vs. apolitical) for a discussion of Renoir’s career
has led
me to use several of Renoir’s Hollywood projects to build a series of signposts th

contextualize 1940s
era Renoir as “Franco
American.” Like theories of cultural
“hybridity,” the label “
American” is meant to convey the simultaneous, but not
always harmonious, joining of multiple cultural influences

into a new identity.

completely French nor American, Renoir’s “Franco
American” films provide an
addendum to the theories of identity proposed by Homi Bhabha and Stuart Hall. These
theorists of contemporary multiculturalism have defined the concept of hybridity in order
to f
ocus on its complex origins and expressions of marginalized groups in society; for
them, hybridity is a source of continuous tensions and evolution rather than a fixed
of being.

Though their work originates in very different contexts than that of a
American director, these theorists lend a vocabulary that often resonates with Renoir’s
experience in Hollywood. Bhabha and Hall are astute critics of the fraught balancing act
of multiculturalism. Likewise,
Renoir was at once French and American,

but such
duality was unacceptable to audiences of the time, habituated to assigning neat cultural

The source of this misunderstanding,

bha argues, is that cultural hybridity is
an often obscured “third
space,” greater than the sum of its parts


The idea that

identity is continuously forming and reforming directly challenges concepts of cultural
central to the prevailing analyses of Renoir’s films. Bhabha is especially aware of
the ways his concept of hybridity threatens the domina
nt view of narrower cultural

“[it] displaces the histories that constitute it, and sets up new structures of


authority, new political initiatives, which are inadequately understood through received
wisdom” (Bhabha 211). Cultural theorist Tim E
densor has recently argued for a more
elastic concept of national identity that complements Bhabha’s observations. Edensor
compares identity to a “matrix” that “continually redistribut
es” characteristics along a
complex network of relationships between pe
ople, industry

and ideas (30). His metaphor
captures the decentralized yet interdependent
characteristics of national identities,
describing the process by which Renoir the émigré became a part of social, political, and
studio networks, fusing his French
past to his American present.

Nearly twenty years ago, Daniel Serceau observed,
“Aujourd’hui encore, écrire
sur Renoir
demeure un acte de

combat” (22). The second purpose of this dissertation is
to offer an alternative explanation for why that combat exi
sts and on what battleground it
is waged. A major challenge

in studying Renoir’s American films is that they are
branded as products of Hollywood and thus inferior. To suggest otherwise is, as Serceau
implies, heretical, as if success in Hollywood

necessitates a diminishment of genius or

It is a line of thinking that connects to the common antagonisms between
American and French cinema since their inception

the former excels as mass
“entertainment,” the latter as high “art.” Renoir’
s Hollywood ambitions are not just
evidence of the narrowness of such discourses, but of their overwhelming power to
influence perception as well.

While “cosmopolitanism” or “transnationalism” might spring to mind as ways of
negotiating out of this binar
y, I hesitate to use such frameworks here. I do not see Renoir


as part of the mainstream French film diaspora

that included directors René Clair, Julien
Duvivier and actor Jean Gabin. Nor does he represent a transnational figure, as the term
is commonly

understood in more contemporary fields of cultural and literary studies as a
migratory economic phenomenon or postcolonial trend. It is my hope, however, that
Renoir’s experiences and
work tangentially demonstrate that the aforementioned
concepts must op
en up to new contexts in order to remain vital in new debates; they
might benefit from less rigid application.

As a point of departure, we may consider the years 1941
47 the setting for a
twofold exile in which Renoir simul
taneously lost his homeland as

well as his physical
links to his life as a French film director
. After the war he would famously claim, “my
nationality is cinema.”

At first this dual loss only
made him more aware of his French
identity; however, quite soon after, he began to absorb
the ideas and culture of his
newfound home.
In one sense, Renoir in America is the story of an exceptio
individual with helpful personal connections who still had to face the same
problems every immigrant faces

how to reconcile his native i
dentity with
the culture of
his adoptive homeland,

and how to find work.

Nevertheless, Renoir’s expertise, ties and
friendships in Hollywood make him less the immigrant leaving one country behind for
another than an extraordinary figure who embraced two c
ultures and two nations, and
improvised an

entirely new identity as a result.


hen I asked his son Alain about this point, he agreed that his father did not consider himself a part
of that group of expatriates. Interview, 18 February 2006.


“Je suis un citoyen du cinématographe.”
Ma Vie et mes films

(Paris: Flammarion 1974) 259.


This study focuses on two

nproduced scripts and three films that correspond
roughly to the beginning, middle and end of Renoir’s Hollywood career. I trace the
conception, pro
duction and reception of each as a means of delineating the evolution of
his distinct Franco
American identity. Specifically, I examine several elements that
continued to punctuate his life and work in Hollywood that can be further subdivided into
two categories. Personally, Renoir’s growing interest in American

literature and
his ability to forge enduring friendships were vital to his connection to America.
Professionally (or artistically), the director’s narrative innovations and careful
deration of the socio
political role his projects should play shaped the direction his
career took during the 1940s and beyond. These particular manifestations of a new
identity in Renoir’s films ultimately help to

situate them within

larger shifts in
mmaking and American culture. The first half of the decade was spent in war before
giving way to the country’s anti
Communist paranoia of the following years: Hollywood
was intimately connected to the course of both events.
The Hollywood films introduce
new themes of home and family to the usual list of Renoir’s interests in capturing the
flawed reality of human relationships onscreen. Aside from his completed films,
examinations of his abortive projects illustrate the particular demands of Hollywood i
addition to the director’s reaction to them. In short, English was not all he had to learn,
and, like mastering a second language, learning to communicate as a director in
Hollywood was a challenge Renoir embraced.

The 1940s for Reno
ir were thus in m
any ways defined by his determined efforts at
reconciling the French

cinema he helped craft in the 1930s
with the new form of


Hollywood filmmaking ushered in by more corporate and wartime concerns
. Hollywood
film historians Thomas Schatz, Janet Staiger, a
nd Robert Ray have all helped identify the
ways in which the studio system’s reaction to the war impacted film production. Renoir
came to Hollywood at a difficult time; many of his particular problems and successes can
be traced to broader shifts in
wood’s wartime agenda. This study is a more
expansive (though by no means exhaustive) step toward developing a more nuanced

reading of Renoir and his work in America. As he himself mused in a 1960 interview: “a
picture must not be the work only of an auth
or or of actors and technicians; it must be
also the work of the audience.”

Review of Renoir Literature

Of course, interpreting Renoir and his work has long been important to many
critical audiences interested in the connections between nation, culture a
nd cinema.
Consonant with Renoir’s stature in the history of French film and culture, the literature
treating the Renoir corpus has been growing ever since his “return” to France in 1949.

The dominant interpretations or perspectives of his work develope
d out of this juncture:
his postwar French
oriented rehabilitation; the historical overview, which tends to
compile archival materials (films stills and production credits); and contemporary
criticism that largely focuses on identifying socio
political age
ndas within Renoir’s
prewar films.


Joan Franklin and Robert Franklin, “The Reminiscences of Jean Renoir,”
Jean Renoir: Interviews,

ed. Bert Cardullo (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005) 95.


Not really a return, the homecoming was a 48
hour layover on Renoir’s trip to India to

in November 1949. He would finally return for an extended stay in 1953 (Bertin 276).


Some of the most strident criticism comes out of the polemics of the immediate
postwar French film community seeking to rehabilitate Renoir

. These writers
(among them André Bazin, Eric Rohmer, and François Truff
aut) set the precedent for
Francocentric views of his Hollywood work. After Renoir was “lost” to America during
the Second World War, Bazin and the
Cahiers du cinema

tirelessly to welcome

icon home at the start of the fifties. Renoir

figured little in their
mythology, except as a foil to their laudatory repositioning of his misunderstood pre
work. It is not by accident that the first two articles in their 1952 tribute issue are entitled
“Renoir français” and “Renoir amér
icain.” In the first article, Bazin writes,

“Renoir n’a
jamais été ‘absorbé’ par Hollywood, mail il est vrai qu’il est devenu un metteur en scène

presque aussi à l’aise a Rome qu’aux Indes”

(“Renoir français” 13). By
implication, what follo
ws is the idea that it was strictly Renoir’s

French talents for
filming the world around him that granted him access to the cinemas of the world.

The dominant, academic “cultural memory”

of Renoir’s French corpus mainly
evolved out of the 1950s
Cahiers du


The group labored via their
journal and cin
clubs to reclaim Renoir for
France, where they felt he belonged and
could do his best work, as he had during the 1930s. When his American films were
reviewed, they were judged against hi
s 1930s
era work in order to illuminate their
failings in social realist terms. In order to praise Renoir


Rohmer seeks out


Understood here as “the cultural representations which lack the immediacy of first
recollection.” Jan Werner
Mueller, introduction,
Memory and Powe
r in Post
War Europe: Studies in
the Presence of the Past
(Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002) 14.


Cf. Aimée Boutin, Alec Hargreaves, et. al., introduction,

Journal of European Studies
35(2): 147


only those aspects of Renoir’s Hollywood films that shared similarities to his French

Bazin’s unfinished book on

Renoir follows a similar method of comparison.
More often than not, the

staff focused their analysis on his 1930s classics:
Grande Illusion, Le Crime de Monsieur Lange
, and
La Règle du jeu,
which helped them
develop realism
based criteria that

also served to reinforce their conception of Renoir as a
quintessentially French director who could only achieve filmic reality in the cultural
environment he knew best.

Out of this strong connection to French culture,
several authors took up the cause

Renoir’s Gallic greatness via an equally flawed argument that maintained the primacy
of Renoir as a “humanist” filmmaker. This perspective also reinforced the diminishment
of his Hollywood work,

which the French viewed

as the result of a mechanized,
italist moviemaking model. The juxtaposition of “humanism” with “Hollywood”
resulted in a critical framework that eclipsed the concrete factors that evidently
influenced Renoir’s decisions. Furthermore, the humanist line of thinking ultimately
allowed cr
itics to position Renoir as a “universally” great artist, thereby connecting
French sensibility to a universal film art. Speaking generally of Renoir’s American films,
François Truffaut invokes a typically vague definition: “We don’t find those exact
ities that are often praised in Renoir’s French work: a sense of familiarity, fantasy,
what we call his humanism.”

The key word in this conclusion is “familiarity”: therein
lies the deeper issue of Renoir’s allegiance to French culture. Truffaut’s use


Maurice Schérer [Eric Rohmer], “Renoir américain,”
ers du cinéma
8 (1952): 33


Dudley Andrew,
Mists of Regret: Culture and Sensibility in Classic French Film

Princeton University Press, 1995) 293.


François Truffaut,

The Films in My Life
. Trans. Leonard Mayhew (New York: Da Capo, 1994)



universalizing discourse to gloss over Renoir’s American career was understandable in
the context of the
New Wave waiting to break over the sclerotic postwar “cinéma de
qualité”; however, Truffaut’s assertion is troubling for the depth it misses by over
Hollywood’s impact on the director. James Leahy consequently observes that, “at times,
he ‘humanist’ Renoir becomes so monolithic as to sound monotonous; this pat version
little justice to the actual beauty, poetry, passion o
r humour in his

Categorization discounts the specificity and range of Renoir’s talents by denying the
collaborative, discursive and evolving nature of his work.

The “humanist” and Francocentric criticism
discounts an important segment of
Renoir’s career; it also p
oints to the politics of culture at large.

As Janet Staiger has
observed, canons seek to deny difference, and their formation consequently becomes “a
politics of power disguised as universality of great film art.”

A (re)reading of the films
most emblemat
ic of the Hollywood period, bolstered by access to primary documents and
updated production histories, dispels hierarchical conceptions of Renoir’s career. The
Second World War

as an event and an idea

marked a turning point in Renoir’s style,
but the noti
on of Hollywood as a place with an influential culture (not merely as a
negative foil to high art European film) is surely as valid in explaining Renoir’s evolving
filmmaking sensibilities as are his upbringing in Cagnes, Essoyes, and Montmartre.

Only one
dissertation dating from 1979 (out of the roughly fifteen that treat
Renoir’s films in the UMI database of dissertations) treats Renoir’s American body of


James Leahy, “Jean Renoir,”
Senses of Cinema Great Directors: A Critical Database
(2003), 23

2007 <>



Janet Staiger, “The Politics of Film Canons,”
Cinema Journal

(24:3 1985:4


work as its major subject. William Gilcher’s “Jean Renoir in America,” contains a
thorough literary

review, which has grown narrow and dated twenty
eight years later.
Gilcher’s work is a formalist reading that revolves around narrative
spatial analysis of
three of Renoir’s films and argues for visual continuity among them. Historical
circumstances are

relegated to an appendix, whereas I believe this information to be
crucial to formal analysis, as it often contains information about Renoir’s associates who
were instrumental in helping him to craft his scripts

and bring them to fruition.

Several contemp
orary cinema scholars have taken up the challenge of sorting out
the evolving
contradictions, connections and influences over the course of Renoir’s
career. Their methodologies rightly integrate archival production files and other sources
with frame
ame formal analysis.

Alexander Sesonske was among the first to use
interviews and what would later become archival materials donated to UCLA by Renoir’s
estate to methodically reconstruct the conditions of
Renoir’s Hollywood
productions. His
detailed ana
lyses in
Jean Renoir: The French Films 1924

illustrated the
advantages of a clear methodology that uses form, content, and historical background to
read Renoir’s body of work. Sesonske’s later studies,
“Jean Renoir in America: 1942,
This Land is Min
” and “Jean Renoir in Georgia:
Swamp Water


thematic and
stylistic repetitions in the Hollywood films, as well as how these match up with the
script’s original intentions. Sesonske’s methods are instructive for the type of expansive

that can by drawn from a single case study.


Alexander Sesonske,
Jean Renoir: The French Films 1924

(Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1980).


Cf. Sesonske, “Jean Renoir in America: 1942,
This Land is Mine
Persistence of Vision

(1996): 102
135. “Jean Renoir in Georgia:
Swamp Water.


Georgia Review

26 (1982): 24


Janet Bergstrom provides a comprehensive view of the contradictions and
setbacks Renoir faced in Hollywood

her detailed production histories

A Salute to
France/Salut à la

Woman on the Bea

(1947). These follow in the
vein of Sesonske’s approach to understanding the contexts of
Swamp Water

(1941) and
This Land is Mine


Taken together, Bergstrom’s and Sesonske’s studies help
the ways in which Renoir as a director was chang
ed in and by Hollywood.
Whereas Sesonske insists largely on the detrimental effects of Hollywood, Bergstrom
focuses on more objective differences for what they can tell us about filmmaking during
the era. Combining archival research with ideas on the rel
ationship between
psychoanalysis and cinema, she performs an important re
reading of the themes and
circumstances of
The Woman on the Beach.
Through script comparisons and an
examination of deleted scenes, she notes that while the censoring demands of
lywood’s Production Code Administration forced Renoir to pare the story down to its
most basic essence, the narrative paradoxically became

a richer portrait of human desire.

Daniel Serceau’s 1985
Jean Renoir
la sagesse du plaisir

major themes
Renoir’s post
1940 work. The book is less remarkable for its
often contain minor factual errors) than for the sheer no
velty of considering Renoir’s
Popular Front career to be his artistic apex
. Serceau ends his introduction wi
th the
assertion that “
aussi admirable soit
elle, l’oeuvre des années trente demeure
inférieure à


Janet Bergstrom, “Oneiric Cinema:
The Woman on

the Beach
Film History

11(1), 1999 and
“Jean Renoir and the Allied War Effort: Saluting France in Two Languages,”
Historical Journal of
Film, Radio and Televsion

26 (M
arch 2006): 45


l’ensemble des films unissant
Le Fleuve

Petit Théâtre de Jean Renoir.


clearly provocative, this idea fundamentally mirrors the pro
French bias of

school of thought: Serceau insists on seeing Renoir as a filmmaking institution unto
himself rather than as a filmmaker affected by

myriad influences throughout his career.

Jonathan Buchsbaum and

Christopher Faulkner have done much to both su
and reject accepted ideas of

continuity among Renoir’s Popular Front films based on
evidence (or lack thereof) of Renoir’s political engagements.

Engagé: Films in the

Popular Front

(1988) gives a clear sense of Renoir’s nuanced
inematic political involvement during the 1930s. Faulkner’s

The Social Cinema of Jean


provides a compelling discussion of Renoir’s evocative socio
political realities
during his entire career.

This is a much more rewarding task with respect to
a Bête
Le Crime de Monsieur Lange

than to the Hollywood films

Faulkner thus
writes of Renoir’s American films:

It is impossible to discover a direction in all this fruitless searching about, or for

that matter in the films that Renoir did com
plete [..]To group them according to

some common style or common theme seems futile. There is instead an

epistemological and ideological rupture that these two films [
This Land is Mine

The Southerner
] may help us understand. This rupture will mean

a radical

change for the social function of art and the role of the artist
intellectual (126

However, Faulkner’s position on the American films has become more problematic in
recent years, not least because of the
author’s own continued research on

Renoir in


Daniel Serceau,
Jean Renoir, la sagesse du plaisir

(Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1985) 22.


The work of Jonathan Buchsbaum, Christopher Faulkner, Alexander Sesonske, and Janet Bergstrom
all relies on archival materials to support their ar
guments for or against a continuity based on such


Cf. Christopher F
The Social Cinema of Jean Renoir
(Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1986).


America. In 1996, Faulkner discovered an address Renoir delivered to the left
League of American Writers gathering.

On a whim in 2001, Faulkner uncovered FBI
files on Renoir under the Freedom of Information Act that indicate the director

was under
surveillance for political
activities during the 1940s.

Though political messages may be
less apparent in the American films

(they certainly

there, however), the Renoir
Papers at UCLA are peppered with documents on life in Spain under Gene
ral Franco,
Soviet alliance groups, and war relief agencies of various ethnic and religious stripes.
Renoir was politically active, but he appears to have grown more pragmatic about
methods and means of engagement after his brief encounter with ideologica
l extremism
in 1940. While remaining informed and acting accordingly, Renoir eschewed his more
vigorous commitments of the 1930s.

Frank Curot’s publication of conference proceedings from a 1994 international
colloquium on Renoir

responds to the need for

more rigorous comparative approaches.

Several articles deal with his Hollywood period, but fail to arrive at an understanding of
his experiences as nuanced as that of Bergstrom or Sesonske. Gian Piero Brunetta’s


Cf. Christopher Faulkner, “Jean Renoir Addresses the League of American Writers,”


(1996): 64
. I go into more depth on this paper in chapter three.


Cf. C
hristopher Faulkner, “An Archive of the (Political) Unconscious,”
Canadian Journal of

26 (2001): 191


With this exception of
This Land is Mine
Salute to France,

both intended as propaganda.
Even these films refrain from strident political tones. There focus is more on explaining past actions
(why the French would fall victim to an occupation) rather than promoting a specific political


Biographer Célia Bertin notes how appalled Renoir, a long
time Communist sympathizer, was to
hear of the Soviets’ treatment of the mentally ill at an L.A. event in 1951, “but in those days of
McCarthyism, it was better to keep your indignation to yourse
lf” (Bertin 274).


Nouvelles approches de l’oeuvre de Jean Renoir: Actes du colloque international de Montpellier:
septembre 1994
, sous la direction de Frank Curot, préface Alain Renoir (Montpellier:
Université Paul Valéry Montpellier III, 1995).


provençalisation de l’Amérique
” trace
s the ways Renoir discovered America’s
similarities to his native France, but he fails to see this discovery as a more complex
negotiation of two cultures. Rather, the American South appears as no more than a
suitable stand
in for the south of France. S
everal other articles note that literature, with
its ability to emphasize psychological realism and prioritize character over plot,
increasingly appealed to Renoir.

American and French novels provided not only source
material but also inspiration to the
aspiring writer. As early as 1943, Renoir mentioned
his idea to do a book on his father; he wanted to fulfill his film contracts so that he could,
as he put it, “write

my book.”

Guy Cavagnac, in “Renoir romancier,” argues for the
need to reconsider Renoi
r’s literary pursuits as a vital resource for a better understanding
of his life and work:
“le passage à l’écriture et au roman n’aurait pas dû nous surprendre
chez notre auteur: il était inscrit dans l’oeuvre filmé” (Cavagnac 259).
Curot’s assembly
of “n
ew approaches” to Renoir’s’ body of work thus points the way toward work that
grapples with myriad influences in the director’s own approach to the challenges he

If anything
, the sheer range of approaches to Renoir scholarship reflects the
variety o
f sources that inspired and shaped Renoir’s films. Dudley Andrew has argued in
Mists of Regret: Culture and Sensibility in Classic French Film

that the canonical films
of the 1930s were inextricably linked to a specific time and place that ceased to exist

the war began. Of Renoir he observes, “history, even more than genius, ran through his


Guy Cavagnac notes the “complexité, la densité des personages et des situations [qui] portaient en
elles toutes les qualités du romanesque” 258.


Jean Renoir, letter to Max Becker, 21 April 1943,
Jean Renoir Papers.


camera and his pen” (293). Just as poetic realism took time to fully gain credence and
coherence as concept tied to a specific cultural epoch, so too has the ti
me come to take a
closer look at the broader forces at work in both the making and reception of
American films. Isolationism, anti
Americanism, Francophobia, Hollywood, mass
culture, and
e director’s own biography all contributed to the terms an
d evolution of
American Renoir. Given the wealth of archival materials, critical perspectives and
interdisciplinary research, there is little reason to believe that Renoir would have
continued making films similar to those of the 1930s had he remain
ed in wartime France;
in fact, he had already planned to move beyond the rejection of
La Règle du jeu
starting a project in Italy in 1939. With Renoir,
based influences not only
coexisted with Hollywood standards;
they complemented

the American

Renoir’s setbacks and
triumphs in Hollywood speak as much to the era as to the
man living through it, as Lutz Bacher similarly

demonstrated in his study of Max Ophüls
in Hollywood.

Renoir’s voluminous interviews, letters, and memoirs are ric
h, often
sources of insights into the director’s life, times and relationship

to his

One major recurring theme in these records is his conflicting loyalties to both
France and America.

In his 1934 official resignation from the Associat
ion des Auteurs
des Films, Renoir wrote: “
Je crois que le film doit être national dans son esprit. Nous
nous laissons manifestement envahir par l’esprit américain. Cela est mauvais, car les

Bacher explains his methods: “Analy
zing the network of causal determinants should not only yield
insights on an exile filmmaker’s adaptability to the classical Hollywood mode of film practice but also
provide broader perspectives on the changing role of freelance talent and the range of ind
production practiced in Hollywood as it reached its peak and began its decline in the mid
forties” (3).
He details four “discourses” in the Hollywood films: that of the studio, artisan, censorship, and
production). See Bacher,
Max Ophuls in the
Hollywood Studios

Lutz Bacher (New Jersey: Rutgers
UP, 1996) 9.


Américains feront toujours mieux que nous les films américains.”

It is an ironic
statement given his later emigration, but also
foreshadows a similar conclusion he would
later draw in America

that it was not his purpose to make “French” films in Hollywood.
It is revealing that Renoir recalibrated

his statement in 19
“I believe very strongly that
human beings are related to the country where they live, with all its habits, foods,
prejudices” (

Renoir’s experience begs the question:


long is it before
a new country creates new habits, new relations

The 1940s were a
liminal period for Renoir; a certain tension permeates his
experiences in California. Despite his vigorous efforts to expedite the process, his son
Alain did not arrive in Los Angeles until late 1941
. When he did, it was only to
enlist in
the U.S. Army and ship out to the Pacific for the remainder of the war. Renoir’s letters
following his son’s enlistment reveal the emergence of a dual allegiance. In his personal
correspondence, he wrote of having

abandoned his fami
ly and countr
y, while at the same
time expressing a growing admiration for
his new home. On the professional front, he
articulated his frustration

with the studio bosses, even as he praised the ingenuity of
American technicians. Division and violence within families
and communities is a
common theme in Renoir’s films of the period, and one that
exposes the

simmering below the surface of the wartime era. In
Swamp Water
The Southerner,

scenes of mob mentality roil small towns plagued by suspicion, greed, o
r general malaise.

Pinning down recurrent themes in similar plotlines is a method that, throughout
each chapter of this study, helps
paint a portrait of Renoir’s “

stylistic choice”


Jean Renoir, letter to Berthomieu, 22 May 1934,
Jean Renoir Papers, UCLA Arts Library
Collections, Young Research Library, Los Angeles.


(Bacher 15). Bacher’s concept establishes a point of departure fo
r comparative studies of
Hollywood films. He begins with the material that makes it onscreen to better understand
a director’s choices and constraints.
the final films are

compared to Renoir’s
original intentions

stated in letters, treatments, or
script drafts, the differences

and why changes occurred.

“Evident intention” helps us separate out the elements
of Hollywood style from Renoir’s own intentions. Fortunately, we need not guess

at what

to achieve in Hollywood. Th
e Jean Renoir Collection at UCLA includes
script drafts and letters that bear witness to Renoir’s intent. Where previous research saw
unpredictability and waste,
these ruptures now lend coherence to Renoir’s
The released film is seldom the f
inal word on a director’s true intentions.

Bacher further
explains that “[s]uch probings of evident intention are instrumental in linking style to its
historical context and revealing the social, economic, or cultural forces determining it”

the dictates of war, and personal motivations all figure into the
calculus of Renoir’s Hollywood period.

Richard Boston’s updated analysis of the Renoir classic
Boudu sauvé des eaux

takes in many respects the type of “evident intention” approach

that is necessary for
placing Renoir’s work in its proper contexts. Boston admits that his own predispositions

are colored by years of reading auteurist literature on the film that ascribes
the film’s touches of comic and visual genius to Re
noir (Boston 26). Upon closer
inspection, Boston finds that René Fauchois’ play was in fact the direct source of these


“The detailed production case study makes it

possible to ascertain whether a scene’s adherence to or
deviance from the norms was intended by the director and whether the stylistic device or system was
indeed a matter of choice” (Bacher 19).



the play was not the “common” or “vulgar” piece so
often mentioned in discussions of

the film’s

origins, but a respected piece of
contemporary theater, first performed in 1919 and “in almost constant production”
throughout the interwar period (Boston 25). A comparison of Renoir’s intentions with
that the film owes more than just its o
rigins to the play.

If it can take fifty
to contextualize
, there is surely quite a bit of work to be done unpacking
Renoir’s Hollywood films.

Boston’s approach is also important to our understanding of Renoir’s work in
general. Literature,

especially theater, is one key to Renoir’s creative process (especially
in America). The belief, especially on the part of French critics like Truffaut or Bazin,
that any direct citation from another source would compromise Renoir’s talents demands
ion. As Boston notes, the passing, almost begrudging acknowledgement that many
Renoir connoisseurs gave to the books or plays adapted by Renoir is telling

their insistence on the purity of Renoir’s cinematic vision explains their dismissal of
Hollywood films, which were (with one notable exception I discuss in chapter four)
drawn not from French sources but contemporary American literature. Even then,
Renoir’s literary choices in America

did not match preconceived notions of
genres. The

writers loved, for example, to discuss the elements of

a readily identifiable American genre. Renoir’s non
Westerns that placed
rugged American individualists

in the South seemed inauthentic next to the films of John
As a 1946

film critic stated,
“one doesn’t […] expect the French to


epitomize the old American west in their own picture

The opposite scenario
also captures the trouble with assigning genres to one culture: in the case of Renoir’s
od version of
Diary of a Chambermaid,

detractors were quick to argue that
French literature could only be treated in a French film.

Tom Gunning has urged
film scholars to view the single work in context to better
comprehend the circumstances in which it w
as made and received:

“I believe that at the present stage of research the goal is less the assembly

of a grand overview of these forces than a series of case histories of how

struggles between discourses produce specific films and readings of fil

because only a close examination of the untidy processes of production and

reception can unfold all the dynamics involved” (8).

Purely formal film readings do not do justice either to the historical processes at
work or to the myriad pressures
on a film production that are the rules of the game in any
national cinema, albeit to differing degrees. A director never works alone in the sense
that a novelist or playwright does.
The multiple hands in a film’s production require
multiple levels of exp

(Gunning 11). “An historical textual reading uncovers the
conflict still alive and wriggling throughout the film itself, as modes of discourse
continue to struggle for dominance in our reception of the film (Gunning 11).

This type
of research con
veys the rich, albeit contentious, nature of cinema. Gunning argues, “[a]
conception of the film text as a site of struggle leads in the opposite direction toward
specification and multiplicity, toward discontinuity and conflict” (8). Diving into


30 January 1946, Special Collections, Marg
aret Herrick Library, Academy of
Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Los Angeles.


Tom Gunning, “Film History and Film Analysis: The Individual Film in the Course of Time”

12.3 (July 1990): 4


s t
umultuous Hollywood projects might raise more theoretical issues than it
answers, but it finally allows us to access the full scope of the films.

To the advantage of the archival researcher, the Hollywood film industry of the
1940s generated massive amo
unts of documentation, from film treatments to scripts to
memos and Production Code certificates. Many of these documents are now preserved in
the special collections of Los Angeles film institutions, and I draw upon them heavily.
The Production Code Adm
inistration, a censoring body endorsed by the Motion Picture
Producers and Distributors Association in 1934, established a code against which all film
content must be tested before it could gain certification for distribution.

Most films’
PCA files are h
oused in Special Collections at the Margaret Herrick Library of the
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In them, one can trace the systematic
elimination of objectionable sexual, political, and social context from a script. The
Herrick Library al
so contains trade magazines and film glossies that contain advertising,
profits and reviews for the films. These can be valuable for gaining insight into how a
film was originally positioned to reach specific audiences and how well it performed
relative t
o the competition.

Perhaps the most invaluable of primary sources is housed in the UCLA Arts
Library’s Special Collections, which holds 107 boxes of Renoir’s scripts, photos,
personal letters, business correspondence, and ephemera. The production files co
various script drafts and film treatments, some of which never reached the production
stage or were substantially changed if they did. The gap between original intent and final


I go into more depth on the PCA’s mission and inf
luence in chapter four.


product brings into sharp relief numerous points of contention
ions of letters

provide Renoir’s actual voice, and impart a sense of the difficulty of communication and
daily life (especially in France) encountered during the war.

Two major collections of Renoir’s letters have been published from UCLA’s
archive, but
they remain, at best, scratches on a rather expansive surface.


authors of
the Plon edition of Renoir’s letters, first published in 1994, acknowledge that their
"ne représente qu’une fraction des milliers de feuillets à notre disposition, et
otre choix s’est fondé sur leur contenu et leur valeur à élucider certains aspects de la vie
et de la carrière du réalisateur.” (


Tom Gunning’s review of both
collections observes that the “basis of selection for the letters is unclear
” and that
omissions are identified, though rationale for doing so is never fully explained

). A major shortcoming is that the Plon collection contains only selected

Lettres d’Amérique
, as the preposition notes, contain
only letters

Renoir. The more complete archives give
a more inclusive

picture of the intricacies of
Renoir’s personal and professional life.

Renoir’s contemporary communications, as opposed to subsequent interviews or
essays, reveal the deep impact

f the war on Renoir and his family.

later interviews
and his own memoirs,
Renoir, mon père
(1962) and
Ma vie et mes fil

(1974), Renoir
often skipped over or brushed aside his early years in America.
The director’s essential
inhibited him fro
m dwelling on unfortunate matters of the past. He

accepted responsibility for his mistakes, writing in 1974, “
mes difficultés a


Corrépondance: 1913

David Thompson and Lorraine Lobianco (Paris: Plon, 1998).


Hollywood viennent de ce que le métier que j’essaie de pratiquer n’a rien à voir avec
l’industrie du film”

Ma vie

186). But in the
archives, daily life in America is richly
documented in letters to his son, letters home, and miscellany such as date books and
invitations. The many letters he received in the 1940s often contained pleas

of friends, loved
ones, and professional acquaintances.

In 1945, for instance, he
wrote to a family friend: “Dido e
t moi nous nous sentons très privilégiés en Amérique et
à cause de cela nous voudrions aider nos amis en France […] je ne roule pas dans l’or
mais je gagne ass
ez […] des gages normaux pour ici ce qui représente une vie plus large
et plus agréable que dans les même conditions en Europe.”

His brother Claude

November 1945 to tell him
, “Le pays est triste et désolé. On y est vraiment au bout de la
. Le ravitaillement y arrive difficilement et l’essence y est bien rare.”

materials present a sense of how
both the distance and abortive or compromised film

projects weighed on
the director,

as well as how the personal nature of his American
ships encouraged him to


Locating Renoir and his work within a specific time, place and group of
contemporaries more fully captures the complexities of being a foreign director in 1940s
Hollywood than simply describing it

the alienating terms of e
The relatively quick
development of
Renoir’s friendships is further evidence of his

American identity.
Renoir connected to a network of expatriates (Clair, Brecht), Hollywood writers (Dudley
Nichols, Clifford Odets), actors (Burgess Meredith,

Charles Laughton, Paulette Goddard)
and studios (MGM), sometimes even before his emigration. His interest in such


Jean Renoir, letter to Mrs. René Verrier, 8 November 1945, Jean Renoir Papers.


Claude Renoir, letter to Jean Renoir, 13 November 1945,

an Renoir Papers.


Hollywood talents as Charlie Chaplin and Robert Flaherty might well have led him to
work there had the war not necessitated his move
. In 193
8 he had turned down an
invitation from producer Sam Goldwyn to work in Hollywood
, saying:

Cher Monsieur Goldwyn: J’ai été saisi d’une proposition que vous m’avez fait

de travailler dans vos studios. Je suis très flatté que vous ayez pensé à moi,

et je
vous en remercie. Je suis dans l’impossibilité de répondre à votre aimable

invitation parce que je vais d’ailleurs incessamment commencer un film.

Friendship is so obvious a constant throughout this often overlooked period that it
seems to have been t
aken for granted; after all, Renoir was well known a for his
sociability long before he came to Hollywood. However, one could argue that his
friendships were more than a testament to Renoir’s good social graces; they in fact
largely defined his American e
xperience. His American acquaintances not only secured
his entry into Hollywood; being in the business themselves, they also greatly influenced
the direction his work took.

Another undervalued consideration

I emphasize is the role of American literature
roughout Renoir’s Hollywood career, when his increasing grasp of English allowed him
to read material that informed his understanding and representations of American culture.
Swamp Water

The River
, Renoir embraced the challenge of translating lit
realities into cinematic ones. As

Cavagnac suggests, Renoir’s literary interests, like his
friendships, constituted a crucial element in his negotiations of culture and artistic


Jean Renoir, letter to Samual Goldwyn,


mars 1938,


As we will see in chapter two, part of Renoir’s dislike of
Swamp Water

stemmed from its lack of
fidelity to the original text.



Archived files, interviews and autobiographical writings al
l show that Renoir
wished to adapt French literary texts in Hollywood as well. Most of these
came to fruition; however, their existence added to the development of a Franco
American Renoir during the war
. His work with writer Saint

his adaptation of
an American novel into
The Southerner,
and selection of
Diary of a Chambermaid


varied creative

The networks of friends

and contacts, the appreciation of literary influences, and
historically based research
trongly suggests that Renoir fashioned an alternative
sensibility or identity during his transition to Hollywood filmmaking. We can discern in
his films the reflection of a Franco
American identity that emerged

out of his own
relationship to both American

and French cultures.
Three years that roughly correspond
to the
beginning, middle and end of his Hollywood career trace this identity within
Renoir’s filmmaking: 1941, 1945, and 1946.




In my first chapter, I analyze two unproduced

projects: Renoi
r’s original
Les Enfants dans l’orage

Flight South
), and an adaptation of Antoine de
Exupéry’s novel
Terre des hommes

Wind, Sand and Stars
). Both demonstrate the


Upon retiring from filmmaking, Reno
ir wrote his memoirs, a biography of his father and four
novels. He also wrote a play entitled

in 1955. As early as 1943 he wrote, “After this piece of
work I have no commitments and I have decided not to accept any. It will be the first time for
a long
while that I will find myself approximately free and master of my own time. This time I am
determined to start writing my book, and to finish it, I hope, fairly quickly.” Jean Renoir, letter to
Maximilien Becker, 12 April 1943,
Jean Renoir Papers.


difficulties Renoir first encountered while trying to extend his newly ev
olving Franco
American sensibilities to the big screen. While the projects yielded some lasting
friendships, they also showed Renoir that wartime Hollywood made demands on
representations of France that these particular scripts could never overcome. These
failures made Renoir aware of the fact that in wartime Hollywood he was not just another
director, but rather a French one

One theorist of national identity remarks how these
important “unreflexive bases of identity are often realized only in condi
tions of disruption
or dislocation”; Renoir’s arrival in America was certainly one such defining “disruption”
(Edensor 28).

My second chapter deals with the two films that most fully express the Franco
American Renoir. 1941’s
Swamp Water

and 1945’s
The S

share several
striking similarities. They feature Southern characters, both young male protagonists
trying to strike out on their own, only to be challenged by a hostile community. Themes
of the individual, and of the need for friendship and so
cial cooperation portray Renoir’s
take on his adoptive homeland.
Both films also meld melodrama with Renoir’s
subjective realism
rendering them

at once familiar and foreign to American audiences (at
least to the reviewers). Moreover, the tangible succes
s of these films suggest that a
American perspective could

and did

reach audiences when given the chance.


Fig. 1.1
Renoir (far left, seated) on the set with the cast of
The Southerner

[Jean Renoir Papers]

I turn to
Diary of a Chambermaid

in t
he last chapter. The film defies
classification, with its translation of a

satirical French novel into a
Hollywood love story.

The strange mix of genres would prove to be an ill fit for postwar
America, but the film provides a unique opport
unity to examine the complexities of
adapting unconventional material. A close reading of Renoir’s early script draft matched
to the finished film and
to Production

Code demands
sheds light on

the external forces
that forced him to retool his work into th
e final cut. Nevertheless, Renoir’s perspective
breaks through visually at points in the film to provide glimpses into the potential of the
American expression that originally attracted him to
Diary of a Chambermaid.

Beyond trying to clarify Renoi
r’s place in cinema history, my concurrent focus is
the richness of these films as texts
that are at once minimally plotted and carefully
They help explain why people continue to write of Renoir’s “humanism” when
they are really referring to his ar
tful integration

of form and content. I quote often from


the dialogue and
include film stills to illuminate the rich worlds of the complex narratives
that Renoir crafted in Hollywood.

A single scene can illuminate Renoir’s evolving
talents even at
the supposedly lowest point of his career.

With each Hollywood film, allowing for the possibility of harmonizing Renoir’s
rooted influences with his American acculturation gets to the root of

misconceptions of his Hollywood output. Did he regard t
he literature he adapted as being

valid across centuries and oceans? Did he recognize that post
war Americans faced

of the same social changes that he depicted in his poetic realist period? Strictly political
or expatriate interpretations of his film
s must be expanded if we are to truly understand
the scope of his Hollywood work.
“Renoir’s great strength was the opposite of doing
everything himself. What he did was to get the best out of other people

writers, actors,
cameramen, whoever,” notes Bost
on (22).

These indelible personal
connections and
literary inspirations are the keys to understanding the


nature of Renoir’s film
projects from 1941 to 1947 and beyond.


Richard Boston,
Boudu Saved From Drowning

(London: British Film Institute, 1994).