Probably the most believable myth in France is also a “best selling” one—that its citizens saved Paris from Hitler’s orders it be burned to the ground. The stories about Hitler demanding the City of Light be destroyed are not difficult to accept; the very open evidence of his dementia gives psychological credence to fears he either did or would issue the order. This is the basis for Is Paris Burning?, the popular novelesque book Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre wrote as a restorative to the nation demoralized into arrogant denial about its quick acquiescence to the Germans. It’s a good read, with a blend of fact and factoid, something akin to an Alistair Maclean. In a documentary-like black and white, René Clement’s movie version is the opposite—a mess as an all-star “me too” face saver against the harsher realities that you might come to believe Clement raced to get his version of French resistance and patriotism out before Marcel Ophuls’ The Sorrow and the Pity spilled the beans. The script had seven writers, including Francis Ford Coppola and Gore Vidal, whose contributions we can only guess. At the least Gore had a devilish laugh when it turns out French liberators did more for France in seven days in August, 1944 than they did in four years under occupation and yet it’s still a German who “saves” the city. For the record, the following five men were responsible for saving Paris: German Field Marshal Walther Model, who ignored Hitler’s order to defend the city; German General Dietrich von Choltitz*, who, establishing rapprochement with the French Resistance, disobeyed Hitler’s instructions to destroy the city; French General Jacques-Philippe Lecleric, who moved huge forces within short distance of Paris to thwart any insurrection by the French Communists; French General Charles de Gaulle, who exerted pressure and influence on all parties to save the city; and American General of the Army Dwight Eisenhower, who, having once lived in Paris for eighteen months, rejected a military solution and demanded common sense be used to spare the city. With celebrated names like Leslie Caron, Charles Boyer, Alain Delon, Simone Signoret, Yves Montand, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Claude Dauphin and Jean-Paul Belmondo enacting belated heroics, and with other names like Gert Fröbe, Kirk Douglas, Glenn Ford, Robert Stack, E.G. Marshall, George Chakiris, Anthony Perkins and Orson Welles supporting, it’s not a movie, it’s Parisian ointment for guilty consciences and a résumé for non-French actors looking for work. Oscar nominations for art direction and Marcel Grignon’s photography. Leave it to the French: one of the purported reasons the movie’s primarily in b & w is because the French government supposedly refused to allow any color movies of the Nazi swastika or other regalia. (In 2003, the French gave us the colored Bon Voyage.) 173 Minutes. In Panavision, with 70mm blowup. (Opening 11/10/1966 at the Cinestage, running 11 weeks.)
Oscar nominationsfor b & w art direction and Marcel Grignon’s photography.
In 2018, French writer-director Françoise Cros de Fabrique made a documentary entitled Destroy Paris: Hitler’s Secret Plan, financed by Eclectic Presse, New WayCom, France Televisions and LCP Assemblee Nationale. Its central aim is rebutting the Collins and Lapierre book, with the major beef being German General Dietrich von Choltitz, who apparently briefed the authors extensively and generally regarded as the man most responsible for not carrying out Hitler’s insanity in wanting to virtually wipe the City of Light off the map. Fabrique paints a portrait of Choltitz as a ferocious Nazi, as it has been historically accepted he was responsible for bombing Rotterdam to smithereens after surrendering, making him Hitler’s leading candidate to do same to Paris. The director then guides us through the archives as if all is “newly discovered”; the files have been sitting in unadorned government buildings more or less unmolested for years, though some documents were supposedly kept secret for a period of sixty years following the war. Those restrictions lifted, we watch as the seal is peeled away, after which the documentary then attempts to prove Choltitz was undeserving of...what, exactly? Judge for yourself by watching it here on YouTube.
ROLL OVER IMAGE
Text COPYRIGHT © 2002 RALPH BENNER (Revised 5/2023) All Rights Reserved.