'Story of a Cheat' runs out of wit before it gets to the end

April 16, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Staff Writer

If Sacha Guitry had been named something more prosaic -- Jacques Rouvier or Alan Planes, for example -- he'd likely have a smaller reputation in the history of French cinema.

It must be that name -- with its exotic hints of Russian birth and education -- that explains the reputed influence of Guitry (1885-1957) on such filmmakers as Welles, Truffaut, Godard and Resnais.

Surely it's not "The Story of a Cheat" (1936) that accounts for Guitry's influence. This little film's dollop of brittle wit is stretched awfully thin. An aging gentleman (Guitry) settles himself at a cafe table to write his memoirs. As he scribbles, his voice-over narration reveals that as a young boy he was sent to bed without mushrooms at dinner because he had stolen a few sous.

But the 11 left at the table die horribly because the mushrooms are, as it turns out, poisonous. The child learns cheating pays. His curse, however, is he wants to be honest. His problem is people believe him only when he cheats; when he's honest, they think he's cheating.

JTC Some of this is amusing -- particularly the parts that take place at the gaming tables in Monte Carlo -- but not enough for the film's 83-minutes. One curious thing is how old-fashioned this film is: Because it is told almost entirely in a voice-over narration, it seems like a silent film with spoken titles instead of printed ones. "The Story of a Cheat" did not advance the art of the cinema.

MOVIE REVIEW

What: "The Story of a Cheat"

Where: Baltimore International Film Festival, Baltimore Museum of Art

When: Tonight at 7:30

Cost: $6 general admission

Call: (410) 235-0100

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