Wilder: Mauvise Graine (aka Bad Seed) (1934) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Wilder: Mauvise Graine (aka Bad Seed) (1934)

In the 30's, in Paris, the playboy Henri Pasquier (Pierre Mingand) is supported by his father, Dr. Pasquier, with money and a brand new car. When Dr. Pasquier decides to suspend the allowance and sell the car to force Henri to get a job, Henri leaves home and associates to a gang of car thieves. Henri falls in love for the thief Jeannette (Danielle Darrieux), and when they are betrayed by their boss, they decide to move to Casablanca and straighten out their lives.

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

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Mauvise Graine is a light... something. It kind of dances between light comedy and light drama and left me without much more than light boredom. Most of the film concerns itself with the joyrides of the car thieves and their activities-- the gang even has a picnic down at the beach!-- moreso than heavy moralizing or emotions. Billy Wilder's desires as a screenwriter/director are typical of his early work, in that the light, playful tone bleeds through more of the heavy moments.

There are two main themes that Mauvise circles around, the first being, obviously, how cars function as an extension of masculinity. Henri is driven into a hypnotic obsession when his father takes his car from him, especially since he'd planned to use it to woo a pretty girl he met at the auto shop earlier in the day. He is on uneven ground until he becomes a car thief; now more powerful than a mere car owner, he can woo a female car thief. She's uses car owners as toys, but finds Henri the car thief to be irresistible and charming.

This leads directly into the other, more subtle theme about the exploitation of power by those who have it, and how that eventually destroys and injures when it deflates. Henri craves power as he sees himself above office work despite not having a job in his life. The criminal thrill that enraptures him when he finally sees the money floating in is almost silly; while his friend, Jean (Raymond Galle), makes a tearful goodbye to Henri's father, Henri was downstairs stealing a car that simply looked appealing to him.

Worse still, Henri decides after his first heist that he's underpaid and starts needling the head of the ring for more dough. This results in a battle of the wills, one which spills out into a fist fight and car chase. Henri can't handle authority, and his inability to deal with that is what eventually forces him to meet a downbeat ending.

All this nonsense about Henri doesn't tell you one important thing about him though: he's a deeply unappealing character. Headstrong and flirty with a leading man's smile, but so deeply broken by his obsession with power and his penis that the film never manages to get you to root for him. Ryan: do you think Wilder wanted us to hate privileged Henri so much? Or am I just turning into a bitter old hag?

The thing I was thinking when I watched the movie was Henri wasn't so much a "bad seed" as an incredibly unlikeable tool, so I am glad I am not alone in that thought. I don't think that Wilder wanted us to like the main character in this film because the movie ends with Henri's best friend dead (who is also the love interest's brother) in part because of Henri.

After about 5 seconds of being sad, Henri's rich father than helps Henri escape from town where he is wanted by the cops and he gets to live a happy life, probably in luxury, with the girl of his dreams. Henri is not a nice person, not a good person but yet gets away with everything in the end scott free. It is saying something about the likability of a character when you really see the villains point and are hoping his plan comes to fruition.

I am also glad that you put the description of the plot from IMDB at the beginning of this piece because the movie is so slight and kind of boring that unless than a day, I have forgotten almost everything from the film and couldn't tell you anything about the film without looking it up on the internet beforehand. I don't think this movie is bad per say but it is just BORING. Endless scenes of characters driving through town is not very entertaining and the movie seemed to be missing any type of drive or plot. Was this movie a drama, a comedy, a crime picture? I have no idea and I watched the film. It wasn't very charming, the drama was very slight and the gang was as tough as Peter Pan's Lost Boys.

This isn't the worst Wilder film that we will watch but I ask you Danny, is this the movie that has the least amount of Wilder in it? If I would have watched the film without knowing he was the director, I would never have guessed this was a Wilder picture. I guess I am glad I watched it so I can say I have seen all of his films, but again, I don't know if I will ever really classify this as a "Wilder Picture".

I think you're writing down the ending a bit. Jean was obviously the one you're supposed to like-- he's got the cute quirk and everything. His death is a sharp contrast to what Henri represented, and his death will haunt Henri the rest of his life. Henri, living the rest of his life in exile and tormented, isn't a happy end. It's very light, and feels very, very French, something along the lines of René Clair. The morality is fluidity and playfulness is very French, with lots of ambiguity being thrown around without a care.

I don't agree with you on Wilder's lack of influence-- I still see plenty of Wilder here, mostly from the froth. He manages to become more substantial, which I'd say a lot of thanks to go Brackett for that, but in this case, it just doesn't substantiate into anything.

Luckily, Wilder's got a good decade of writing between this and his next directorial outting, and his entrance into the studio system will give him a more steady, more American sort of film ideology. Was there anything else you wanted to say, or is this just something you would rather forget?

I think froth is the perfect word to use for this movie.

Like I said earlier, I don't think this is a bad movie, I just find it cold and distant. If you are supposed to feel bad for Jean it didn't work for me because other then his quirk he made no impression on me at all. The best Wilder films feel lived in with real characters and here I couldn't remember one line of dialogue, one character beat or much of anything. You mentioned it was very French and maybe that is my problem when I said this didn't feel like a Wilder film because instead of working in the America studio system he made a French film which is drastically different.

I think the fact he didn't have his greatest partner with him yet in Brackett, that he hadn't worked for Lubitsch, that he had yet to perfect his writing that it felt like an imitation Wilder film than the real deal. With that said, the next film we will be talking about feels like Wilder through and through. With that I say good bye to Mauvise Graine and welcome Wilder to America from here on out, a country that fits him much better in my opinion.

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Next Week: The Major and The Minor

The Films of Billy Wilder

Posted by Danny

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