One of the all time classic French films. Made in 1931, this is one of the first French talkies. Pre dating Chaplin's Modern Times by 5 years (and the subject of a bitter court case stopped when Rene Clair stated that imitation is the finest form of flattery) and leading the way in a satirical attack on the machine age, Rene Clair created a wicked comedy on the dehumanisation of industrial workers. When Louis (Raymond Cordy) and Emile (Henri Marchand), two prison inmates, attempt to escape, Louis is caught and returned to his cell, while Emile succeeds and becomes a successful businessman. On Louis' release he goes to work for Emile but finds the industrial world no better than the prison regime. When Emile is recognised as an escaped convict he and Louis decide to escape the confines of the factory by taking to the road as tramps.
To warn certain readers- this is in black & white & subtitled. Personally I feel sorry for people who insist on an English soundtrack as they are depriving themselves of many great masterpieces but that's another story.
Clair's 1931 film does not strike me as being as "wonderful" as some of his later Hollywood efforts- notably "I Married a Witch" but it's an uplifting film that hearkens back to what we think of as a simpler age when shades of grey never entered moral issues. The film concerns the different fortunes of two prison escapees who meet up years later- one remains down & out but attuned with the important things of life- here a beautiful woman- & the other who has become a successful industrialist. It's touching & often very funny & Chaplin's debt to certain scenes which were used in "Modern Times" is obvious. His assertion that he had never seen the film doesn't ring true.
A lovely score from classical composer George Auric & a limited use of dialogue add to the often hypnotic feel of the film. Whether it should be in the NY Times best 1000 films list ahead of some of Clair's later films is more contentious.