History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Boulevard of the 20th

“The period which extends from 1890 to the war of 1914 remains that of Antoine's Theâtre Libre, of plays with a message (Hervieu, Brieux), of ideological dramas (Francois de Curel, Marie Leneru) and for more frivolous spectators, that of boulevard theatre, which came into full flower at the beginning of the twentieth century. Life then had a meaning. One sought to define it and to preserve it from adulteration. It was not long since the advocates of the experimental novel had proclaimed themselves the doctors of society. Playwrights took themselves no less seriously: the Church, the army, the laws, everything was made a topic of debate upon the boards. At the same time, studies of manners and society went on apace. There is no evidence that in France curiosity about the individual has ever waned. Porto-Riche, Bataille, Bernstein were the fashionable writers. Nonetheless there were pure entertainers. With no other goal than to amuse a public which an era of peace allowed to laugh without any mental reservations, they continued to shoot off gaily all the fire-works of their wit. The plays of Flers and Caillavet and those of Alfred Capus represent perfectly this type of comedy. It was as scintillating but also as ephemeral as the bubbles of the champagne whose flavor it possessed. In a more daring genre, Georges Feydeau, Maurice Hennequin, Pierre Veber supplied the Palais-Royal with hilarious vaudevilles” (Coindreau, 1950 pp 27-28).

Théâtre du Vaudeville, Paris 1910

In the early 20th century, French farce is bolder than that of any other nation. As Nathan (1915) pointed out, “the difference 'twixt a risqué American farce and a risqué French farce is simply this: in the former the plot proceeds toward adultery, in the latter the plot proceeds from adultery. Or, in another phrasing, the American product deals with adultery as a probability of the immediate future, while the Gallic product deals with the probability of adultery of the immediate past being found out” (p 4). In the French version, the sex act has already occurred, in American or British versions, it is only threatened to occur and often never happens. For the Anglo-Saxon public, marriage is a sacrament and institution unmeet to be laughed at, for the French often a joke.

Georges Feydeau

As in the 1890s, Georges Feydeau dominated Boulevard theatre during the 1900-1920 period. Portrait of the author by Carolus-Duran (1837-1917)

Georges Feydeau (1862-1922) continued his dominance over Boulevard theatre from the previous century with "Une puce à l'oreille" (A flea in her ear, 1907), bitingly satirical and with elements of cruelty most of the genre lack.

In "A flea in her ear", “Feydeau piles complication on complication and what should lead to clarification only help to confuse...Feydeau presents a tableau of alcoholism, prostitution, sexual perversions or inadequacies, and a general attitude toward life which reflects, on the bourgeois level, the same preoccupations that naturalism reveals...The seventh scene of Act 2 is pure nightmare, as the characters are plunged into the absolutely incomprehensible and we the audience attacked though our nerves by the absurdity and extremity of the situations in the most violently physical of vaudevilles. Tournel, turning back from locking the door so that he can better violate Raymonde, leaps onto the bed, which in the meantime has revolved, and finds himself embracing Baptistin. For him as for Raymonde on the other side of the wall, there can be no explanation but madness” (Pronko, 1975, pp 162-164).

“Feydeau offers a play in which neither husband nor wife is even seriously contemplating adultery. Yet it is suspected adultery that sets Feydeau’s infernal machine in motion...Raymonde advocates a double standard usually attributed to and associated with men: she can understand and excuse her cheating on her husband but would not stand for it if the reverse were true. She truly believes that a lover would be satisfied with the gift of her mind and heart...For Chandebise, whose only flaw...is...his conjugal duties, the punishment is utterly out of proportion. Like a Kafka character, he is assailed by unknown forces for incomprehensible reasons” (Esteban, 1983 pp 134-135).

"Feydeau exploits sexuality for its ability to stimulate physical tension throughout the act. His use of the Englishman, Rugby, in this enterprise is particularly interesting. Established from the onset as satyrism incarnate, Rugby is always on the prowl, his door left invitingly open: a trap which Raymonde, Antoinette, and Lucienne all enter...Raymonde and Lucienne both fight their way back out immediately, but Antoinette, the fun-loving maid, stays on after Camille fails to rescue her, later rushing out with her blouse clutched around her when her husband stumbles into the room. It is Rugby who is also one of the most violence-prone characters on stage, wrestling with all the women and brutally assaulting Camille and Etienne and Chandebise...Feydeau handles psychology well, but his real genius lies in the aesthetic structuring of physical movement...His characters constantly change direction, running first for one door, then racing for another. They also chase up and down the stairs- twenty-four times in all...Feydeau uses choreographic distancing...to create a sense of detachment in the audience...An example...occurs...as Chandebise himself, arriving at the hotel, temporarily escapes from Histangua by taking refuge in Rugby's room. The Englishman, interested only in having girls in his room, shoves Chandebise out- and the noise of their struggle attracts Ferraillon, the owner, to the scene....Feydeau makes the physical action into an ensemble dance...building of the physical tension he has so artfully created into a kinesthetic climax...Feydeau himself announced the principal rule of construction for his intrigues: 'when two of my characters absolutely must not meet, I bring them together as soon as possible.' It should be added that he always throws them together literally nose to nose, with a sure sense of theatrically effective movement. Thus, when Raymonde and Tournel first meet in the bedroom of the hotel, Feydeau goes to great lengths to make sure that they will not at first see one another across the room but face to (bruised) face...Feydeau uses this principle eight more times in the act...As Eric Bentley has correctly postulated: 'the theatre of farce is the theatre of the human body' (The life of the drama. New York: Atheneum, p 252, 1970). As much as any other dramatic form, farce reminds us that theatre remains more a Dionysian ceremony than an Apollonian one" (Parshall, 1981 pp 359-364).

The malfunctioning of the revolving bed “is an excellent demonstration of the Bergsonian view that as a man begins to resemble a machine so he becomes less human and increasingly an object of laughter. In this case, and in complete harmony with the extremism of farce, man no longer commands the machine; it commands him; indeed, Camille and Baptistin have become a part of it, subsumed into the machinery as it spins heedlessly out of control” (Booth, 1988 p 147).

In general, Feydeau’s characters “plunge themselves into situation after situation with nearly tragic abandon. They want desperately to escape the tedium of daily living and of course most of them choose sex as their means of escape. Feydeau sees tragedy behind the farce of bed-hopping but his characters do not, although many of them face up to their own folly” (Marcoux, 1988 pp 141-142). “Situational comedy...at which Feydeau excelled...is placed...below the level of the comedy of character. The reason for this is given by Bergson (1913). The purpose of laughter...is to correct behavior that is dehumanized or antisocial...A character...fails to adapt to changing circumstances...betrays his mania...Situational comedy, on the other had, reveals a distraction in things, life is seen as a mechanism with interchangeable pieces and reversible effects...Unlike the comic of character, says son, situational comedy corrects nothing...In the last half of the 20th century, life has become so dehumanized that Feydeau’s plays stand today almost like a revelation of the threatening universe in which we live...Everything allows us to concur, for life seen...through the perspectives of the Theater of the Absurd...suggests that there is indeed a natural stiffness of things...Writers like Beckett and Ionesco have suggested that [situational comedy] has metaphysical implications” (Pronko, 1975 pp 48-50). Yet there is a distinction to be made between Feydeau and the Theatre of the Absurd of the Ionesco kind. “The absurd in farce, which is a momentary suspension of order, is not synonymous with the existential Absurd which indicate logical absence of all order. The distinction is comparable to that which exists between crime and anarchy, or between blasphemy and atheism; the first is an assault on a code, while the second is a denial of the code” (Farrell, 1995 pp 311-312).

"A flea in her ear"

Because of her husband's impotence, Raymonde has a flea in her ear and elsewhere. Painting by Georges de La Tour (1593-1652)

Time: 1900s. Place: Paris, France.

Text at http://olathetheatre.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/A-Flea-In-Her-Ear.pdf

As a result of her husband's impotence towards herself, Raymonde Chandebise suspects him of having adulterous relations. To test that idea, with the help of her friend, Lucienne, she composes a letter from an unknown woman for a lover's rendezvous with him at the Minaret Galant. Chandebise cannot believe the letter is meant for him, but rather for his friend, Tournel. By chance, Chandebise shows the letter to Lucienne's jealous husband, Homenidès. "Caramba!" he cries, "My wife's writing!" Homenidès warns Tournel to avoid going there, but yet Tourney does. When Raymonde arrives at the Minaret Galant, she asks for Chandebise's reserved room, as does Tournel when he arrives. While sitting on the bed, Tournel draws the curtain as Raymonde enters hastily from the changing room. She slaps his face before recognizing the man is not her husband. Unabashed, Tournel seeks to take advantage of the situation. While Raymonde hesitates on whether she should accept, she inadvertently presses a button which turns their bed around through the wall while the bed in the next room revolves into theirs, a bed occupied by an old man, Baptistin, who complains of rheumatism. The revolving beds are meant to serve as a front in case police officers appear in the hotel rooms. Fearing the old man, Raymonde rushes out of the room and heads downstairs, then runs upstairs four steps at a time after seeing her husband arrive though disguised as a servant. She precipitously enters a room with an open door, occupied by a lusting Englishman named Rugby. She comes back out struggling to get away from him, intent on slapping his face which Tournel, trying to help her, receives in his place. Seeing Baptistin still in their room and hoping to rid themselves of him, Tournel presses the button, after which a servant named Poche is seen on the revolving bed, wearing the same costume as Raymonde's husband and closely resembling him in feature. In fear, Tournel cries out: "My friend, my friend, don't believe what you see." "Pity! Pity! Don't condemn until you hear me," Raymonde cries out. Both fall at his feet and beg to be beaten, but obtain no response. "Anything is better than that frightening calm," Raymonde declares. When Poche appears ready to forgive, Raymonde asks for a kiss, as does Turnel. Meanwhile, informed about the letter, Chandebise's nephew, Camille, arrives and asks for his usual room under the assumed name of Chandebise. Seeing Poche, he also mistakes him for Chandebise and, to avoid him, runs quickly inside the first room he sees, Rugby's again. To rid themselves of Baptistin a second time, Raymonde presses the bed button and this time beholds Camille on the revolving bed. Raymonde and Tournel run away from him, but are forced to run back up again after seeing Etienne, her servant, on the stairs, who warns her that Chandebise knows everything. Incensed at being invaded by a stranger, Rugby pushes Camille out of his room and hits him on the mouth. The blow causes him to lose sight of the speaking apparatus he needs to be understood. Etienne knocks and enters inside Rugby's room, where he discovers his wife in bed with an unknown man. Mistaking him for Chandebise, Etienne stops Poche in the corridor and complains about being a cuckold. Lucienne arrives on the scene, followed shortly after by Chandebise, who admits having shown her letter to Homenidès. They run downstairs but run back up again on seeing Homenidès with a revolver in his hand. Chandebise is pushed out of his room by Rugby and confronted with the hotel manager, Ferraillon, who, mistaking him for his servant, Poche, verbally and physically abuses him. After being pummeled, Chandebise sees his wife accompanied by Tournel. He angrily seizes him by the throat until Ferraillon comes back to berate him again as Turnel makes his escape. The worried Homenidès forces his way inside Camille's room and accidently turns the bed button. On the revolving bed, Lucienne and Poche appear, both disappearing after seeing the revolver in her husband's hand. Later, at Chandebise's house, Poche asks Raymonde whether he can see her husband. Still mistaking him for Chandebise, she, Tournel, and Lucienne all believe the man to be mad or drunk. Poche is taken away to sleep in Chandebise's bathrobe as Chandebise himself arrives, asking Tournel once more the reason why he found him with his wife at the hotel. Disgusted at these confusions, he chases them away. Ferraillon enters to give back Camille's speaking apparatus. Mistaking him again for Poche, Ferraillon heaps further abuses on him. Chandebise disappears only to find the threatening Homenidès, when once again he makes his escape. When Homenidès finds a copy of the letter among Raymonde's papers and asks her the meaning of this, the question is finally resolved by his wife. A stunned Chandebise returns to say he saw his own person in his bed while Ferraillon returns to berate him again until Raymonde reveals he is her husband, all this trouble because her husband's impotence had put a flea in her ear.

Sacha Guitry

Sacha Guitry was the dominant playwright of Boulevard theatre in 1920-1930. Photo of the author, 1931

The most important figure in the 1915-1945 span of Boulevard theatre is Sacha Guitry (1885-1957), with comedy-dramas such as "Le nouveau testament" (The new testament, 1934) and "Deburau" (1918). "The new testament" concerns what happens when a man's coat is found with his testament in one pocket, so that he becomes falsely declared to be dead. "Deburau" concerns the life of Jean-Gaspard-Baptiste Deburau (1796-1846), a pantomime working under the stage-name of Baptiste.

In "Deburau", "the story of the play is a Pierrot story from beginning to end. What are the two experiences in reaction to which Pierrot shows that sentiment which is peculiarly his? Entirely sensual, yet airily tender, hopeless love, and the tragedy of old age...There is nothing in poor Pierrot’s philosophy to fight these ills which he feels so keenly. Still, he has one resource, namely indulgence in an exquisite, slightly mocking self-pity. His escape is, indeed, to make a beautiful little work of art out of that unattractive emotion which we usually handle so clumsily- self-pity...I do not believe a thorough Englishman can act Pierrot at all; he is a child of the Latin zone, born beyond the influence of Northern tenderness, though he in a different way is tender, and of Northern seriousness, though in his way Pierrot too is serious. The prime requisite of a Pierrot is complete absence of reserve and of all fear of emotion, and where, I ask you, will you find that, either in art or life, on this island? If this play, for it is a very pretty one, does not attract, it will be due chiefly to the flatness of the last act, which seems on the stage to drag and drag and then suddenly just stop. The part of Charles Deburau in this scene, Pierrot’s young son, is an exceedingly difficult one to play; he must suggest the timid eagerness yet truthless impatience of young talent which seizes hungrily its opportunity. We must be convinced that when he leaps on the stage he will inherit that very night his father’s fame. If we do not, the conflict of emotions in Pierrot himself will not seem moving, nor will the irony of the crier’s bawling to the public outside to come in and see a new Deburau as wonderful as the old, make touching the son’s sudden revulsion of emotion, when, feeling at last, like a stab right through him, absolute certainty he will inherit his father’s fame, he flings his arms round him, crying- the happy supplanter- 'No, no. It is not true, father. Why does he lie like that?'" (MacCarthy, 1940 pp 70-72).

"The new testament"


Time: 1934. Place: Paris, France.

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After finding a new position for his secretary, John, a doctor, must find another one to replace her. His wife, Lucy, suggests Fernando, son to a friend of his, Adrian, a radiologist, but he hires instead Juliette, whom Lucy immediately detests to the extent of provoking her in the hope that she will lose her place. John is late to dinner at his house on a night when Adrian and his wife, Margaret, are invited. A messenger leaves behind a coat, inside which a worried Lucy discovers an envelope addressed to her husband's notary as well as his last will and testament. She faints. According to this new will, Lucy gets only one third of his fortune, the other parts going to Madeleine and Juliet Courtois, two women whom she has never heard of, but she guesses that Juliet is the woman her husband has just hired as secretary, the other being her mother. Lucy is all the more upset on reading the written date: 25 April 1934, thinking her husband probably committed suicide on this very day. In addition, the will also mentions "a son, who, without knowing it, avenges his father's honor," by which she discovers that her husband knew about her adulterous relation with Fernando. It is Margaret's turn to faint when her adultery with John from 25 years ago is mentioned. Unexpectedly, John himself enters amid the distraught group and finds his coat left by mistake at his tailor's, but without the envelope, hidden underneath Lucy's dress. The following morning, John learns from Margaret, veiled like a widow for the sake of secrecy, the entire story of last evening's events. Despite the awkwardness of the discovery, Margaret declares that their relation together was "the only agreeable moment of my existence". John does not reveal to her whether Juliet is his mistress, or else her daughter, neither does he reveal to Juliet who her father is, but she guesses it is he himself. Later, Lucy, joined again with their friends, sees the butler wearing John's coat, a sign which prompts her to think her husband has committed suicide. But once again he enters in great shape, revealing that he has decided to take part in a foreign delegation of doctors and to take Juliet along with him as his secretary. Lucy looks at Fernando, for them a good opportunity to continue their relation, she considering that to cheat in love "is to wish for happiness". Before going away, John lets her know that Juliet is indeed his daughter.


Photograph of the 19th century mime, Charles Deburau, by Félix Nadar (1820-1910), 1858

Time: 1830s and 1840s. Place: Paris, France.

Text at http://www.archive.org/details/deburauacomedya00grangoog https://archive.org/details/cu31924027399421 https://archive.org/details/deburauacomedya01grangoog

Jean-Gaspard Deburau, a successful pantomime at the Funambules Theatre under the stage name of Baptiste, receives a bouquet of carnations sent by one of his fans. A lady arrives to lead him away from the theatre, but, after he takes out his wife's picture, she abandons that plan. A second woman arrives, roped with diamonds and a camelia on her belt, Marie Duplessis, a noted courtesan. To her, he does not show his wife's picture, but she is not the one who sent him flowers. It is the employee at the cashier's desk, pining for him uselessly. Deburau is taken with Marie. "I adored the sun," he says, "I like today the rain as well as the sun." Deburau is constrained in an unhappy marriage and, were that possible, wishes to marry Marie instead, his lady of the camellias. She answers yes because it is impossible. After he leaves, Marie admits to a conjurer friend that she loved Deburau only for a day or so. His wife having left him, he joyfully returns with Charles, his ten-year-old son, a dog, and a bird-cage at the very moment Marie is already in the arms of a new-found love, Armand Duval, yet he expects to see her again. Seven years later, Deburau is still expecting Marie to come back. When Charles tells him he would like to become a mime like him, he disagrees with that choice, emphasizing the difficulty inherent in making a living out of that art, encouraging him instead to become an actor at worst. Surprisingly, Marie returns, the result of a friend's intervention on his behalf since Deburau leads such a hermit's life and appears to be sick. When he discovers she came only to look after his health, he loses interest in her. A doctor arrives to encourage him to take up various hobbies. Reading? "I prefer death without words," he retorts. At last, he decides to return to the stage, but, older now, is unsuccessful. As he is about to speak to his disgruntled public, he finds himself unable to. He kisses them goodbye instead. The curtain closes on him sadly and slowly. The last curtain falls on him like the guillotine, "for a soldier, it is the flag that one throws on his coffin," he declares. The theatre director must now replace him with a journeyman, but Deburau has a better idea: put Charles on, whom he starts to coache on the spot.

Marcel Achard

Marcel Achard competed with Sacha Guitry for prominence in Boulevard theatre, 1936

Marcel Achard (1899-1974) competed with Guitry at his best with satires on domestic confidence with "Colinette" (1942) and on boyhood friendship with "Patate" (Potato, 1957).

"In 'Potato', the triangle becomes a pentagon involving two married couples and an adopted orphan. The hero is a disenchanted inventor called Rollo who wastes his time alternately hating a successful rival, Carradine, and borrowing large sums of money from him. Rollo's 18-year old adopted daughter, Alexa, represents modern youth, although she claims that 'it is old-fashioned to be modern'. Her language would shock American parents into some measure of protest or discipline, and, while her actions speak softer than her words, she is 'quite a number', as Carradine's wife, Véronique, says. In describing how she turned down a proposition, Alexa says: 'Two propositions a week, that's my average...the last one was last night...not very interesting...done entirely by gestures...and answered, too: my hand on his face. Then he called me a little whore...This gave me the chance to reply: 'thanks for telling me. Now I don't have to prove it.' Beneath this wise-guy attitude, Alexa is an unhappy girl who longs for the marital security that her adopted parents enjoy. Her love affair with Rollo's old friend-foe, Carradine, is discovered when her adopted mother finds some highly compromising love letters. Rollo thinks that they are intended for his wife, and Alexa is forced to confess that they are her own, refusing, however, to name her partner. The irascible 'Patate'- a nickname given Rollo by Carradine, meaning sucker, fall guy, jerk- is determined to find out; the suspense, in shaggy-dog story fashion, leads us to the discovery and promptly bypasses it. Rollo, after elaborate speculations, comes to the idiotic conclusion that his daughter's lover must be the family doctor. Finally he realizes that it is his old friend, Carradine. Characteristically, Achard has Rollo recognize the letter 'Z' which has figured so prominently and humiliatingly in his own search for cash, in the word 'payez' on Carradine's checks endorsed to Rollo. Revenge is sweet. Rollo is almost sick with joy as he anticipates all the humiliations he will inflict on Carradine. But now comes the play's final irony: Rollo can't go through with it. Why not? Simply because he is a nice guy...'Patate' has the elements of a detective story. When, in his apartment, Rollo surprises Carradine who was planning to meet little Alexa there, the humor of the situation is caused by Carradine's surprise and embarrassment. We're laughing with Rollo. But when, a few minutes later, Carradine calmly chooses suicide rather than shame, it is Rollo who becomes funny. As a result of the sudden switch, his revenge has turned sour. Yet Achard never lets his heroes down: their sympathetic quality is established in the first scene, and it is important that the actor know this trait, lest his characterization become unclear" (Mankin, 1959 pp 35-36).



Time: 1940s. Place: Paris and suburb, France.

Text at ?

Wallowing in a Turkish bath, Rivière and Passerose compare how each is mistreated by their respective wives. Rivière complains that his wife pours water on his stomach while he sleeps, cares only to walk when his boots are new, and prevents him from being sexually aroused. Passerose complains that his wife exposes him to what he loves so often that it eventually disgusts him and that she has cuckolded him. Rivière retorts that he is a cuckold, too. Neither is impressed with the fellows who have cuckolded them. Passerose and his wife agreed not to let her lover know that her husband knows, while Rivière’s wife and lover are unaware he knows. A third occupant, Lionel Charmaine, declares that cuckoldry is always the cuckold’s fault, not the woman’s. A fourth customer, Polo, is more skeptical about women’s virtues. More particularly, Lionel boasts about the virtues of his wife, Colinette. “If anyone is sure not to be a cuckold, it is certainly me,” he asserts. Rivière is enraged about such confidence. He bets 10,000 francs that Colinette has or will cuckold Lionel and proposes the experienced Canrobert to do the job. Passerose accepts the bet. But since Canrobert is unavailable, they choose instead Polo, now remorseful for his previous opinions against women. Unaware of the bet, Lionel accepts Rivière’s suggestion of inviting Polo over at his home. During that very first evening, within five minutes, Lionel discovers his wife in Polo’s arms. Nonplussed and to Polo’s surprise, she declares that her relation with her husband has ended and that she intends leaving with Polo immediately, although she admits that she knows little about him. An irate Lionel points out that Polo’s salary is lower than Colinette’s pocket-money. Unperturbed, she is satisfied that Polo has enough to pay for a taxi. She points out that their guest, Armande, loves her husband and tried to convince her to leave him. Armande angrily denies it and leaves immediately, followed by Lionel after expressing vague threats. When they hear the door slowly re-open, both think that it is Lionel. “Kiss me quickly,” she suggests. “And if he kills us, good!” But it is only the triumphant Rivière followed by the dejected and half-believing Passerose, who lets slip the matter of the 10,000 francs to the uncomprehending lovers. Having misunderstood the two friends, Armande returns to reveal that Polo made love to her only to win some money on a bet. Despite the two friends’ denial of Polo’s involvement, Colinette believes Armande. “The romance is over, Polo” she declares. “I can no longer believe you.” When a haggard Lionel returns, Colinette remains still without even turning to look at him. “Put down your fire-arm, Lionel,” she says. “You come too late. There is nothing here to kill.” As a result, Rivière, Passerose, and Armande take turns staying at Polo’s apartment to console him, though since being complimented for his handsome feet, Passerose has gotten in the habit of walking barefoot, caught cold, and can no longer speak. Polo has shown neither sexual interest for Armande nor for her invited guest. “He yawns when I take my clothes off,” she informs them. Before his worried friends, a dejected Polo prepares his luggage for a vaguely planned trip while talking aloud to an invisible Colinette. When the real Colinette shows up, they recognize to have shared the same dreams together though separately. She left her husband six weeks ago, who found her yesterday and has since followed her everywhere. Recognizing Polo’s love for her, she spreads disorder in his apartment as Polo leaves in the next room until Lionel knocks at the door, at which time she pretends to have lived with Polo all this time while re-arranging his apartment while pregnant. Lionel hands her a document stating that she agrees to renounce every material advantage of his fortune and confesses that he knew all along about the bet, regretting his over-confidence.


Leon seeks revenge on Noel for mocking him as a schoolboy when he looked like a potato. Mother Earth's children; the frolics of the fruits and vegetables, picture of the 1914 children's book by Elizabeth Gordon (1886-1922)

Time: 1950s. Place: France.

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When Leon asks his old school-friend, Noel, for a large loan, he refuses but then accepts to buy off his idea of being able to predict the future based on the tossing of dice. Meanwhile, Leon's wife, Edith, is shocked to discover that their adopted 12-year-old daughter, Alexa, is having an affair with a married man. When Edith asks who the man is, Alexa retorts that "Authority comes too late, poor dear." When Edith opines that Alexa may not find happiness in such a relation, she retorts that "happiness is perhaps not indispensable." The mother insists that Alexa will be unable to have a life with him. "My life!" Alexa exclaims. "You know well that we, the young, have no future." Mother and daughter are unable to keep the adulterer's letters away from Leon, who believes them to have been written to his own wife. "I adore to see you lift your skirt to prove you are right," he reads aloud in a shocked voice. After several series of confusions, Alexa finally reveals that the letters apply to her. And after considerable effort, Leon discovers who the adulterer is no other than Noel, on whom he plans to avenge himself for a lifetime of torment the man caused him, including being mocked as a school-boy for looking like a potato. Edith is revolted at this plan. Nevertheless, when alone with Noel, Leon threatens to reveal the content of the letters to his wife, Veronica, who in the event of a divorce would make him penniless. Leon jubilates at the thought, considering himself "a potato that is choking you". But Noel surprises Leon by announcing that he intends to commit suicide, since his wife possesses letters proving the existence of illegal financial transactions on his part. Leon is forced to desist. After learning of her lover's situation, Alexa abandons him, preferring to "put a boy between herself and the man". They burn the letters. Despite this move, Veronica guesses the truth, but nevertheless chooses to remain with her husband.

Tristan Bernard

Tristan Bernard described the adventures of a waiter at a coffee-house who unexpectedly receives a large inheritance, 1934

Other comic playwrights rising to the fore include Tristan Bernard (1866-1947) for his satire on boss-employee relations, "Le petit café" (The little coffee-house, 1911). Bernard also wrote "The unknown dancer" (1909) and "In perfect accord" (1911). In "The unknown dancer", during the course of a masked ball, Henry, a poor salesman working at a steel company, meets Bertha, a rich heiress. They become mutually attracted to each other. To impress her father, he is convinced by his friend, Barthazard, to exaggerate the amount of his salary but then develops scruples about having to add continual lies. He writes a letter to the father admitting his fault and eventually obtains a position as a salesman at a furniture store. Bertha's friend, Louise, learns of this and arranges to enter with her and her new fiancée to the store, where Bertha becomes convinced that Henry loves her for herself, not her money. Concerning "In perfect accord", Achilles and Bertha are married without engaging in sexual intercourse since he found out that she has a lover, Maurice. One day, Bertha and Maurice are caught kissing each other by Achilles' blabbermouth secretary. To placate public opinion, they agree to divorce so that Bertha can marry Maurice. Their perfect accord is troubled when Achilles progressively feels unwanted by her. To assure him of their mutual friendship, she and he become lovers again without telling Maurice and so all three return in perfect agreement with each other. She feels like a queen. "I have a serious steward who directs me," she boats to Achilles, "and a worried page whom I dominate.”

"If one were to select a single piece of Bernard's as representative, ['The little coffee-house'] would be entitled to first consideration...There are capital episodes, such as Albert's preparation to fight a duel, abandoned when his second, a general, discovers his low social station; or his defeat, by giving a handsome pourboire to a coachman, of the contention of a union official regarding the poverty of waiters. Here, as everywhere, Tristan Bernard shows freshness of invention, an eye for realistic detail, a love of the logical reductio ad absurdum, high spirits that make the impossible credible, and a power of revealing character in single strokes. His dialogue is graceful and witty, and his fund of good nature is inexhaustible" (Chandler, 1920 pp 171-172).

"The little coffee-house"

Etching of Bérangère, the courtesan, by Manuel Tovar Siles (1875–1935) in La Novela Teatral, año II, nº 47

Time: 1910s. Place: France.

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Albert grew up as a servant on the castle grounds of the count of Caspion, who suddenly died while travelling around the globe. With no money left to pay for his upkeep, Albert was let go and found a position as a waiter in a small cafe. His girlfriend, Edwige, a popular singer, prefers for the moment not to marry him out of fear that he would choose to live at her expense. One day, Albert's boss, Philibert, learns from his friend, Bigredon, that the count of Caspion's will has been found, stipulating that a huge sum of money (800,000 francs) is left to Albert. Bigredon suggests that he seize the opportunity by binding Albert to a 20-year contract at 5,000 francs per year with a codicil stating that whoever breaks the contract will be forced to pay to the other party 200,000 francs, probably Albert, likely to be unwilling to remain at work after learning of his inheritance. Philibert pretends to be reluctant but then accepts. As anticipated, Albert signs the contract. But after being informed of his inheritance, he unexpectedly refuses to hand over the 200,000 francs. Instead, he tries to provoke his boss into dismissing him by refusing to obey his orders. However, Albert's colleague, a dishwasher, learns that Philibert will bring with him a court-servant as a witness to his employee's irresponsible behavior and so have him dismissed by legal means. On being told of Philibert's plan, Albert resumes his polite and docile demeanor. Now rich, whenever his work-day is over, he often treats his other girl-friend, Bérangère, a courtesan, to expensive restaurants. One evening, Edwige is hired as an entertainer in one such restaurant. Unaware of his new-found wealth, she is startled to discover Albert's presence. To avoid her finding about his wealth and Bérangère's existence, he pretends to have found a second job as a waiter there. Likewise, Bérangère is startled and then angry at his refusal to sit with her and her friends at their table. Eventually, Edwige sees Bérangère caressing her lover's hair, and so the two women fight. When a customer, Gastonnet, gets in Edwige's way, she pretends to have been stuck by him. "If you do not slap him," she tells Albert, "you are the greatest of louts." "Sir, consider yourself slapped," Albert declares. They agree to fight in a duel but, before that can eb arranged, Albert is arrested for disturbing the peace. After being released from jail, he heads back at the cafe, where the head of the waiter's union, intending to show the woes of that profession to a journalist, is unpleasantly surprised to hear about Albert's expensive habits, leaving in disgust. A general is summoned by Gastonnet's friend to organize the duel, but after learning that Albert is a mere waiter, he too leaves in disgust. Finally, Philibert is disgusted at the entire situation and dismisses Albert. However, to his surprise, Albert once more refuses to go after discovering that Philibert's daughter loves him. The father approves.

Jules Romains

Jules Romains showed how successful a clever quack can become, 1934

Jules Romains (1885-1972) showed excellence in the boulevard genre thanks to a medical satire, "Knock" (1923).

Dr Knock’s “plan for conquest is clearly of long standing and carefully organised. He assiduously acquaints himself with the incomes of his clients. Patients are ruthlessly stripped of their defences, beginning with the flimsy mantle of insouciance which has protected them from worrying about their health… Knock proffers big words, not for the sake of the cure, but for the rather more pertinent issue of reinforcing his authority...Knock astounds his predecessor with his figures for the last three months, and not just the consultation rates: he knows the incomes of every household in the canton. But it’s not their money he’s after, he assures Parpalaid: he has brought people to medicine, he has given their lives a medical meaning...Knock is acting not in his own good, he tells Parpalaid, nor even that of his patients, but in the interests of that third: medicine. Parpalaid is struck dumb, bereft of argument. There can be only one possible conclusion: soon the old doctor, who has already had to suffer the ignominy of his less than rapturous welcome by the hotel/hospital staff, and who would seem the person best armed through his culture and experience to recognise Knock for what he is, an agent of the great lie, and thereby resist his blandishments, is being invited by his successor to take a rest cure himself. Knock’s medicalisation of the canton is complete...Knock has found a way to deflect hubris. By deflecting it from himself, he obliges Nemesis to visit those who take him at his word” (Bamforth, 2002 pp 15-17).

“Doctor Knock, the principal protagonist, changes the entire existence of Saint-Maurice with the creation of an unanimistic mind among the villagers. In this respect the comedy- in which there is more of the serious than of the comic- has a sociological as well as a literary interest” (Delano, 1928 p 494). “A medical man by profession, [Knock] is a dictator by vocation...Knock’s approach to the situation, which had at the outset been purely realistic, has become almost that of the mystic, a high priest of medicine. Closely interwoven into the theme of unanimist creation is of the gullibility of the masses, and in showing Knock as being on the point of falling a victim to his own propaganda, Romains’ comedy gives food for thought” (Knowles, 1967 pp 78-79).

“The main theme is really the power of suggestion...Looked at dispassionately, the implications of Knock are serious, and critics have talked of Romains’ methods as leading to political dictatorship if applied in that sphere...Comedy of character is combined with comedy of situation, comedy of language- the extremely witty replies- and with comedy of gesture on stage, to form one of the most amusing and dramatically effective plays of our age” (Boak, 1974 pp 76-77).


Dr Parpalaid, accompanied by his wife, is outshone in popularity by Knock, the crank doctor, played by Louis Jouvet (1887-1951) at the "Comédie des Champs-Élysées", December 1923

Time: 1920s. Place: France.

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Dr Parpalaid leaves a small town to practice medicine in a larger city, handing over his patients to Dr Knock, dismayed to learn how rarely townspeople consult their physician. He first presented this viewpoint in his medical thesis, emphasizing that "healthy people are the sick who ignore their true state". He began to practice medicine without the required degree as a ship doctor and, soon successful, is determined to succeed here as well. His first new idea is to advertise free consultations once a week by the town crier, who mentions in passing how his throat bothers him. Dr Knock asks him to specify whether it is a tickling sensation or a scratching sensation and further asks even more perplexing questions, so that the patient wonders whether he should go to bed at once, but the doctor assures him that he can wait till evening. He asks to see a schoolteacher and is astonished to learn that he and Dr Parpalaid were not in the habit of warning people about the multitudinous dangers inherent in not consulting their physiscian regularly. Knock explains the many functions that can go wrong inside the body and is confident that with the teacher's help the townspeople will be unable to sleep at night. Knock then informs the local pharmacist that his revenues are likely to increase. The pharmacist is dubious, since, to require his services, a man must first become sick, an old-fashioned viewpoint, according to Knock. "For my part," Knock says, "I know only people more or less stricken with illnesses more or less plentiful progressing at a more or less rapid rate." His first patient is a woman complaining of constipation. After briefly examining her and although she does not remember it, he concludes that she fell from a ladder "about three meters and a half high, against a wall". "You fell backwards," he specifies, "luckily on the left buttock." He recommends no solid food for one entire week, warning her that the treatment is likely to be costly. His second patient is a woman complaining of insomnia. He convinces her of the seriousness of her condition, explaining in detail the many malformations of the nervous system that can occur in such cases until she is ready to submit to any treatment if only he can save her. Thus, Knock's private practice, to the pharmacist's content, grows enormously. He waxes lyrical in contemplating the lights in houses at night of his many anxious patients. "The canton cedes her place to a sort of firmament, of which I am the continual creator," he enthuses. Learning of this surprising turn of events, Dr Parpalaid offers him to exchange his present practice with the old one, but Knock refuses, although fully cognizant that his talents must eventually reach a broader stage. A tired-looking Parpalaid wonders whether Knock was joking in insinuating that he appears to need a day of rest. Knock responds that they can see about that later, this said in such a tone that Parpalaid begins to worry about his present state of health.

Jacques Deval


Jacques Deval (1890-1972) excelled in an immigration satire, "Tovaritch" (Tovarich, 1933) along with a worthwhile boulevard drama, “Il était un gare” (There was a train station, 1953).

In "Tovarich", this sudden confrontation of the Russia of yesterday and the Russia of today, coming after three acts of fantasy and scintillating dialogue, is disconcerting, but Deval’s skill as a dramatist carries it through” (Knowles, 1967 p 285).


Played by Eugenie Leontovich (900-1993), Tatiana is a Russian princess who has come down in the world, all the way to a French kitchen, 1939

Time: 1930s. Place: Paris, France.


Mikail and Tatania, escaped prince and princess respectively in the aftermatch of the 1917 Russian revolution, have difficulty in meeting ends meet in a Paris hotel. The former prince refuses to yield an immense sum of money given to him by the former czar to the heir to the throne. "What a crowned czar gave me, I will return to a crowned czar," he declares. The couple are driven to accept employment as mere servants in the house of a banker, Charles Arbeziat, and his wife, Fernande. To Charles, the ideal servant is characterized by "punctuality, silence, deference." To his surprise, he is very pleased at the kind of service Mikail renders, but is taken aback at his manner of thanks: a kiss on the shoulder in the old Russian manner. To help her mistress who had bought for herself some expensive hats, Tatiana sends away the employee waiting for payment. "I can assure, madam, by St Peter and St Paul, that you will see no bill for the next three months," she promises. But her employer will have none of that. The entire household is pleased with their new servants, including George, their son, who likes to fence with Mikail, as well as Helen, their daughter, who learns Russian songs from Tatiana. But when George starts to flirt with Tatiana, she rejects him. One evening, the Arbeziats invite over to dinner important men involved in an oil deal with Russia, including the people's commissar for petrolium, Dmitri, who, during the revolution, tortured Mikail and raped Tatiana when they were held in custody. One of the guests, Lady Kerrigan, recognizes Tatiana as the former czar's niece and a bank official recognizes Mikail, to the amazement of the Arbeziats. Dmitri also recognizes Mikail and coolly asks for a light for his cigarette. To Tatiana he asks for a glass of water. After he drinks from the glass, she casually mentions that she spit on it. As a result of this discovery and to their grief, Mikail and Tatiana learn that the Arbeziats will no longer keep them in their employ. At the end of the evening, Dmitri enters the kitchen to tell the two servants that he refuses to finalize the deal, thereby preventing French, British, and American influences on Russian soil. Instead, he requests Mikail to deliver the czar's money. Otherwise, a great famine is likely to ensue. Reluctantly, Mikail and Tatiana yield. Dmitri thanks Tatiana by kissing her reverently on the shoulder.

"There was a train station"

Passengers unite or separate when two trains remain at a station for repairs. Train station in the commune of Montmorency, 1951

Time: 1950s. Place: The fictionalized town of Couvize, France.

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Because of a lack in passenger traffic, the stationmaster, Bernard, informs Néomie, owner of a coffee house in the train station, that two fewer trains will soon stop at their location. Because he had to pay to prevent his son from being taken to prison for five years, Bernard has refused to talk to him for the last five years. Néomie’s two employees, Yvonne and Odile (nicknamed Snow White because of her innocent outlook in life), expect one day to quit their jobs, the former by engaging in a relationship with an employee of the mail train and the latter always stuffing her suitcase with assorted items in expectation of leaving suddenly with some interesting traveller. Due to technical difficulties, passengers of a train heading for Paris and another for Marseille are forced to stop over at the station, from the latter of which emerge George, recently been released from prison, along with a recent acquaintance of his who also admits to being released from prison, in reality Police Inspector Louvet, tailing him to prevent a robbery planned by that young man. While Inspector Louvet reports by telephone the present situation to his superior, a woman sits impatiently beside him. As soon as he is finished with his report and in view of her worried expression, he facilitates the speed of her call by transmitting it via his own police number whereby she reaches her lover’s servant, only to learn that his master intends to cut off all relations with her in favor of Gladys, a rich American woman. As Néomie approaches to serve at a table, she is stunned to discover her lover from 30 years ago, now a famous classical pianist, Eric Igunesco, but is disheartened to discover that the man fails to recognize her face. At another table, a 17-year-old girl, Helen, entertains hopes of a movie career, encouraged by her agent, Mrs Salviatti, on their way to meet a supposedly important executive. At yet another table, Yvonne is intrigued by the fake jewelry deployed by a travelling salesman, Charles. Long irritated by Snow White’s dream of leaving one day with an amorous traveller, she proposes to use Charles as a fake lover. Meanwhile, Louvet recognizes Mrs Salviatti as a procuress, but, lacking proof of her intentions, leaves her for the moment. A recently married couple, John and Renée, squabble over the lottery win that led to their honeymoon, the result of a man bequeathing money to any couple willing to marry and travel by the same honeymoon route he was happy to undergo in his youth. Despite this fortunate occurrence, John is irate at being forced to lug around the man’s ashes in a ciborium, so that he heads out to look for a small box to put them in despite his wife’s warning that she is determined to return to Paris if ever he presumes to touch the ashes. Wanda is back at the phone with a second plea, this time directed at her lover’s mother for the purpose of interfering with her son’s intention of leaving her, but the plan fails. John finds Helen to his taste and flirts, pretending to be on the way of retrieving an important sum of money as an heir to his dead uncle. The flirtation leads to nothing, unlike Charles’ attempt at seducing Snow White into admiring the jewels he says he bought for the maharaja he works for. Charles further explains that he is ordered to bring along a girl destined for his harem. A man enters and sits at the same table as a newly arrived nun, Sister Angelica, on which he spreads out newspaper clippings. While Eric listlessly rummages about on the counter where a cutting machine lies, Néomie cries out and lurches forward to prevent the danger to his fingers, deeply cutting her own thumb instead. Sister Angelica rushes over to cover Néomie’s damaged hand with a bandage, after which Néomie heads for the pharmacy. While walking back to her seat, the nun notices her companion’s tormented expression. The man explains that he is the state executioner, convinced that the prisoner he is about to execute in Paris is innocent. “There is no danger for the eyes of prayer,” the nun declares encouragingly. Having found the box, John proposes to challenge his wife to a game of electric billiards, which she accepts on the condition that if he wins, both will return to Paris. In her last desperate attempt, Wanda calls up Gladys at her hotel, who promptly makes love to their mutual lover while holding on to the phone. Louvet returns to Mrs Salviatti to reveal the name of the movie executive she and Helen plan to meet, a pornographer expert in blackmailing girls into making films for him. She pretends never to have heard of him. Sister Angelica recommends that the executioner think of his prisoner instead of himself. “Is it nothing for the condemned to witness a last look of compassion, the supreme respects of charity rather than a rude and glacial face?,” she asks. The executioner becomes reconciled. On her way out, the sister advances to watch the billiard game, so that Renée yields her place to her. As a result, the board lights up and, to John’s astonishment, Renée wins the game. George attempts to convince Helen to follow him while she attempts to convince him to do the same. Both fail. After failing in her own attempts to win her lover back, Wanda seeks revenge by calling up the brother of a man sent to jail for cocaine possession after being denounced to the police by Gladys. Néomie returns with the news that a doctor discovered a cut tendon, ending her piano playing days, news hidden from Eric, who, quite contrite, leaves a generous cheque for her as compensation. “In five years, in ten, I would recognize you among a thousand, among ten thousand, anywhere,” he swears on his way out. “I have confidence in your memory,” she replies. As Bernard announces all aboard, he is stunned to discover that the executioner is his son. Yvonne returns from her meeting with the postal man in a woebegone state and the front of her dress torn. Preparing to close up, Néomie and Yvonne discover Wanda slumped over her table, dead after poisoning herself. Snow White likewise returns in a woebegone state after Charles, pitying her innocence, prevented her from boarding the train at the last minute. Yvonne’s case is worse, since after the postal man took her inside the train, he and two others gang-raped her. But Helen’s case improves when after boarding George’s train without finding him inside, she returned to the station to find him likewise back to the station after failing to find her in hers.

Maurice Hennequin and Pierre Veber

Maurice Hennequin showed how a customs agent can impair a man's sexual desire, 1914
Veber teamed up with Maurice Hennequin in several boulevard comedies. Drawing of Veber by Charles Léandre (1862-1934), 1898

Maurice Hennequin (1863-1926), of Belgian origin, and Pierre Veber (1869-1942), of French origin, teamed up for several plays, none worthier and nearest de style of Feydeau than "Vous n'avez rien à déclarer?" (You have nothing to declare?, 1906). Hennequin also wrote with Albin Valabrègue (1853-1937) "Vacations away from marriage" (1887) in which Paul flirts with Edith until her uncle Poulsom appears who expects a marriage offer for his niece. To avoid that violent man, Paul prepares to leave but is prevented by his wife and mother-in-law at the hotel. Hennequin also wrote with Paul Bilhaud (1854-1933) "Nelly Rozier" (1901) and "The Bolero family" (1903). In "Nelly Rozier", Albert, growing tired of his adulterous relation with Nelly whose husband had abandoned her, pretends to be in danger of his life to a jealous wife. However, Nelly discovers the lie and avenges herself by obtaining employment as a servant to his wife, Clemence, to prevent his entering into another adulterous relation with Valentine. In "The Bolero family", Adolph has an adulterous relation with Consuelo Bolero, a star in variety shows, who, together with her family, manipulates him into giving her a great deal of money while offering little in return.

"You have nothing to declare?"

Trouble starts when Robert is interrupted during sexual intercourse on a train by a customs agent and asked whether he has anything to declare. French train station, 1900s

Time: 1900s. Place: Paris, France.

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While Samuel Dupont, a magistrate, waits for the return of his daughter, Paulette, from her honeymoon with her husband, Robert de Trivelin, a stranger, Frontignac, asks to see his wife. On seeing Samuel's wife, Adelaide, Frontignac abruptly turns to leave until stopped by Sam who wants to know which woman he is looking for. A camel mechant in Algeria, Frontignac explains that, having recently met a woman he wishes to marry, he is looking for his wife who abandoned him, prior to initiating divorce proceedings against her. Sam informs Adelaide he is expecting to receive a painting he bought in charity from a one-armed old woman, in actuality his 28-year old mistress, Zézé, who, unknown to him, is Frontignac's wife. When Paulette and Robert arrive, the Duponts discover that he has failed to make love to his wife during the entire trip. Their shame-faced son-in-law explains that when he began to make love to Paulette in the sleeping compartment of a train, he was interrupted by a customs agent who asked him: “You have nothing to declare?” since which time he has been unable to have an erection. Showing no sympathy for his problem, the irate Duponts threaten to force him to divorce their daughter unless he accomplishes the expected feat within three days. To help in Robert's plight, Sam’s friend, Couzan, suggests that a visit to a prostitute might solve the problem. Before going to that extreme, Robert cuddles with his wife. However, hearing of his plight, a rejected old suitor of hers, La Baule, interrupts the couple by crying out outside the bedroom door “You have nothing to declare?,” a call sufficient to discourage the unhappy husband. As a result, Robert heads for a whore's apartment, by chance Zézé's, but is followed by the jealous La Baule, another of her clients. While the hopeful husband is putting on his pyjamas, La Baule pays Zézé to hold him off for a day. She agrees and hides Robert’s clothes to prevent him from leaving. However, she is unable to resist making love to Robert, but when at the point of succumbing, La Baule cries out: “You have nothing to declare?,” which once again discourages the astonished Robert, who thinks he has begun to hallucinate. Nevertheless, he finally achieves his purpose but is forced to hide after seeing La Baule enter with the prim Adelaide to present her with evidence that her son-in-law’s impotence is caused by frequent debaucheries. Instead, Adelaide encounters her husband, hiding to discover Zézé’s lover whom he has heard about. To Robert’s amusement, Sam starts to strangle La Baule until the latter proposes that the husband explain his presence at Zézé’s to his wife for the same reason he accompanied her: exposing her son-in-law’s debaucheries. As an added precaution, La Baule takes from Zézé’s servant Robert’s clothes and heads for the police station to accuse him as the local rapist the police have been looking for. To replace his clothes, the cornered Robert calls out from the window to a passing stranger and, once inside, threatens to shoot him with a false forearm unless he yields his clothes. The passing stranger, by chance Frontignac, feels forced to accept. On leaving, Robert promises to return his clothes as Sam re-enters to confront Robert. To his astonishment, Sam discovers Frontignac instead, who plays him the same trick Robert did. When Zézé re-enters, she encounters a husband overjoyed at finding her at last as the police arrive to arrest the accused rapist, seemingly the almost naked Sam unable to make himself heard. Meanwhile, La Baule presents Adelaide with Robert’s clothes as evidence of her son-in-law’s proclivity towards debaucheries and, moreover, informs her that he has accused him of being a rapist. However, Robert arrives, sees his clothes spread out, and goes out with them as Frontignac enters with Sam’s clothes. After Frontignac leaves, La Baule presents Paulette with the clothes, but she immediately discovers that they are not her husband’s while Adelaide recognizes them as her own husband’s. In horror, La Baule rushes out after inferring that his future father-in-law, not Robert, was arrested for rape. When Sam after displeasing adventures is able to return home in a policeman’s outfit as replacement of his own, he is informed by Couzan how ill La Baule has served him. Robert re-enters, puts down Frontignac’s clothes, and attempts to make love to his wife, who, disgruntled at these events, locks herself inside her room. Meanwhile, the Duponts’ servant has discovered Sam’s police uniform under his wife’s bed. In danger of being accused of infidelity by his wife, Sam seizes the opportunity by accusing her of sleeping with a policeman. However, he becomes distraught when Frontignac re-enters to ask him to serve as witness to his wife’s infidelities. Although Robert is also in a position to reveal his relation with Zézé, Sam continues to refuse him as his son-in-law, as he does Gontran as future husband to his younger daughter when the latter presents him with a certificate from Zézé acknowledging his capabilities as a lover. Although Sam requested such an attestation to protect his daughter, he now refuses him by pretending that this was merely a test of the suitor’s fidelity. He plans to use this attestation to free him from Frontignac’s request but feels all the more cornered when Gontran also reveals he knows about his relation with Zézé. He finally submits to both after discovering that La Baule is another of Zézé’s clients and hands over to Frontignac a signed photograph she sent to the still rejected suitor.

Gaston de Caillavet and Robert de Flers

Gaston de Caillavet teamed up with Robert de Flers in several Boulevard comedies
Robert de Flers described the havoc caused by a philandering king's visit to a foreign country

Gaston Arman de Caillavet (1869-1915), Robert de Flers (1872-1927), and Emmanuel Arène (1856-1908) combined their talents in the political satire, "Le roi" (The king, 1908).

"'Le Roi' is the most uproarious of the Flers-Caillavet satires. Imagine, they tell us, the land of the Marseillaise turned topsy-turvy by the arrival of a royal personage! Imagine that personage a boulevardier among boulevardiers. King Manoel of Portugal must have been the original staunch socialist, making love to his wife, and turning the President and his Cabinet into a ridiculous pack of children! Paris is his playground. Received everywhere with acclamations and honor, no wonder he exults and waxes enthusiastic, crying 'How I love France!'...The daring of the plot, the breezy, ample, esprit 'gaulois' are far enough from the quiet sentiment of 'L'Amour veille' and 'L'Eventail'. The authors have entered a new field, in which they are destined to remain the masters, and win further laurels. The occasional vulgarity of 'Le Roi' is perhaps necessary, owing to the theme. To Anglo-Saxon minds there appears no excuse for many scenes in which sensuality per se is exploited for purely comic effect" (Clark, 1916 pp 189-193). "Delicious in its humor is the scene in which, discovering his Therèse and the king together, [Emile] is ready to roar in wrath, but, bit by bit, modifies the tone in which he exclaims 'Sire!' until he fairly purrs" (Chandler, 1920 pp 185-186).

"The king"

1908 poster of "The king" by Yves Marevéry (1888-1914)

Time: 1900s. Place: Paris, France

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Emile Bourdier, industrialist, mayor, and socialist member in the House of Commons, expects to be invited to a hunting trip organized by the marquis of Charamande, one of the hosts during King John IV of Serdania's visit in France, but he is not. He is disappointed at that and also because the marquis refuses to marry his son, Count Serin, to his daughter, Suzette. To avenge himself, Emile attempts to seduce the marquis' mistress, Theresa, an actress. After obtaining a rendez-vous with her, he is so overjoyed that he rushes into the next room to kiss his wife, Martha. In Theresa's boudoir, Blond, in charge of the king's security, enters disguised as a hairdresser to announce his master's imminent visit. Having slept with Theresa eight years ago, the king intends to renew that pleasant experience. Despite Blond's interference, Emile finds her in bed with the king. To mitigate her friend's anger, Theresa announces that the king intends to hunt on his castle grounds, not the marquis'. Overjoyed, the socialist politician kisses the king's hand. At Emile's residence, Martha is anxious about the king's reception and in particular asks Theresa's advice about how to salute his majesty. "One must sense deference at the calf but dignity at the torso," Theresa recommends. As Theresa prepares to leave, Martha insists on having her stay, to Emile's disgust. After the ceremonial duties are over and everyone has gone to bed, the king unexpectedly encounters Martha late at night. Eight years ago while he was parading down a street, she threw at him an apple turnover instead of flowers and hit him in the eye with it. He pardoned this excessive show of enthusiasm by sleeping with her. He does so a second time in her own home. The next morning, Emile discovers his wife in bed with the king. To appease his wrath, Theresa proposes to a round of politicians that they give her husband a new political appointment. They agree in conferring him a minister's post. In gratitude to her cleverness, the king signs a commercial agreement between their two countries, at which Emile beams with pride amid his colleagues as the new minister.

Louis Verneuil

Verneuil was a Boulevard playwright who excelled at variety

Husband and wife attempts at adultery are handled by "Ma cousine de Varsovie" (My cousin from Warsaw, 1923) as deftly described by Louis Verneuil (1893-1952).

“Verneuil has consistently turned aside from the experimental thea-ter, not for lack of ideas or creative vitality, but because, in the true spirit of Molière, he deliberately aims to please all spectators...His style is elegant and rings true and his dramatic flair is faultless. The combination gives us a series of varied plays, comedy, satire, opera, whimsy, almost all sure to succeed” (Kurz, 1942 p 229).

"My cousin from Warsaw"

Although promised to be married, Sonia is the amorous target of two friends, with Elvire Popesco (1893-1994) in the title role as illustrated in 1925 by Charles Gesmar (1900-1928)

Time: 1920s. Place: Saumur, France.

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After suffering a stroke, Archie Burel retires from banking to lead a quieter life as a novelist. Nevertheless, he complains to his wife, Lucienne, about the frequent visits of his next-door neighbor though long-time friend, Hubert, a painter specializing in sunsets. Likewise, being Lucienne’s lover, Hubert complains about the constant presence of her husband. Nevertheless, she refuses to consider a divorce in view of Archie’s medical condition. Their talk is interrupted by the sudden arrival of Lucienne’s cousin, Sonia, a rich widow of Russian descent, on her way to Madrid with her chauffeur and an English lover. Moreover, Sonia announces that she is to marry the king’s cousin, presently in prison for attempting to lead a revolution against the king. From the looks of Lucienne and Hubert standing together, she guesses that the two are lovers. To spend more time alone with her lover, Lucienne proposes that Sonia seduce her husband. At first hesitant, Sonia eventualy accepts in view of Lucienne’s past help in preventing her murder by a Belgian duke by sleeping with him herself. Likewise, to spend more time alone with his wife, Archie proposes that Sonia seduce Hubert. She promises to think it over. Two days later, noticing that Archie has begun to feel amorous towards her, Sonia reminds him of his plan regarding Hubert, all the more readily because she prefers the latter as a potential lover. Hubert is easily seduced despite being troubled by Sonia’s confession that she was directed towards him by Archie, who, suddenly entering the room, interrupts their kiss and shows signs of increasing jealousy towards his friend regarding both Sonia and Lucienne. To throw him off the scent, Hubert admits to having a lover whose husband is an imbecile. Archie guesses that such a designation can only mean his friend, Gorgerot. He threatens Hubert that should he continue to pursue Sonia, he will reveal the matter to his wife, a friend of Mrs Gorgerot. As Hubert leaves, Archie declares his love to Sonia. She reminds him of her mission regarding Hubert, but Archie reveals that his friend has another lover. Undecided on what to do, Sonia affirms that she may be willing in the future. "Blood of Christ!" Archie exclaims, "you love me." He rapturously kisses neck and lips as Lucienne walks in satisfied at what she sees. Unaware of her indifference, Archie explains in a panic that he sought to remove a ladybug dropped on Sonia’s breast, an explanation Lucienne cheerfully accepts. As he leaves, Lucienne kisses her cousin in gratitude. When Sonia mentions that she might return her husband’s love, Lucienne laughs. « Bring him over to Spain, » she advises. When Hubert returns, Lucienne happily discloses that she found her cousin kissing Archie. Hubert is displeased at this piece of news, but Sonia even more so at being bandied about and so decides to leave for the Fine Capon Hotel at Bordeaux. Aghast at this turn of events, Lucienne surprises Archie by announcing Sonia’s intended departure. When he asks for the reason, she mentions that her cousin appeared overwhelmed by feelings of love towards an unknown man and wished to escape from them to the Fine Capon Hotel at Bordeaux. Considering himself the recipient of such love, Archie is at a loss on what to do next. Lucienne pretends to guess that he is troubled about a letter of rejection of his novel from his Paris editor, and so suggests that he head for Paris at once. Archie pretends to agree but heads instead for Bordeaux. Next morning, after faling to find Sonia, he heads for Hubert’s house, accusing him of sleeping with his wife. Hubert denies it. Seeing a woman’s clothes lying about, Archie insists that his friend confess, especially after hearing a friend he met at Bordeaux, Saint-Hilaire, assure him that the rumor was true, all the more likely when Saint-Hilaire told him that Mrs Gorgerot was his lover, not Hubert’s. Moreover, Archie discovers an onyx bracelet in the room, a gift on his part to his wife. Unexpectedly, Lucienne walks in. She, too, is perturbed at seeing a woman’s clothes lying about, more so after seeing the bracelet, the one she gave Sonia as a gift the previous evening. Sonia enters unperturbed. After displaying some irritation at this piece of business, the Burels leave together. Archie comes back to speak to Sonia, followed shortly after by Lucienne to speak to Hubert. Unable to speak in front of each other, the Burels leave together again. After discussing about the possibility of living together, Lucienne returns again to speak to Sonia, who reveals that Archie encouraged her to seduce Hubert. Lucienne leaves to speak to Hubert. Certain that Lucienne will succeed in winning him back, Sonia leaves.

Marcel Pagnol

Marcel Pagnol told the story of a man who preferred sailing off to sea than a woman's love, 1931

In addition to comedy, a mixture of Boulevard comedy and drama is a viable art when provided by Marcel Pagnol's (1895-1974) "Marius" (1929).

“Marius is a romance in four acts centered on the opposing attractions for Marius of a life at sea and his love for Fanny...César is not a necessary part of the plot [but] holds the play together...Supervising and dispensing justice with his highly colored exclamations, his gags…and his thunderous interventions dominate the play...Objectionable but lovable, César reaches astonishingly lifelike proportions, as do his clients and accomplices: Panisse, the rotund sailmaker...Monsieur Brun, the dapper customs inspector from Lyons, and Escartefigue, cuckhold and skipper...The unusually high number of private jokes among the characters creates a strong sense of inner complicity in the play...sometimes linked to the traditional gag...Pagnol skillfully varies the dosage of provincialisms according to milieu and mood. Of an inferior social background, Honorine, the chauffeur normally uses more provincialisms, but when Honorine loses her temper, she relapses almost entirely into Provençal dialect...similarly Panisse erupts in Provençal when he catches César cheating at cards...The finer feelings, sentiment and romance, are represented by the younger generation, Marius and Fanny, although the quandary of Marius and his eventual departure also symbolizes a masculine revolt against domesticity. The rock-like permanence and familiarity of these old-fashioned values contribute as much to the play’s continuing popularity as the ebullience and zest of its characters. The play itself is demonstrably one of the finest contemporary comedies of character” (Caldicott, 1977 pp 71-75).


César, played by Velimir Maximilian in Bucharest by the Bulandra Company, 1930, worries over his son, Marius, unhappy at being a bartender, preferring instead to travel

Time: 1920s. Place: Marseilles, France.

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A port-bar owner, Cesar, tells his son, Marius, that he considers him "soft and lazy", "a dreamer", of litle use at work. While Marius tends the bar in his father's absence, Panisse, prosperous owner of sailing equipment, courts his childhood-friend, Fanny, a sea-side vendor. Panisse gazes so intently inside her cleavage that the two men quarrel. Panisse prefers to walk away rather than fight but proposes a deal to Fanny's mother, Honorine. Should she agree to his marrying Fanny, he will yield a rich dowry for her daughter and a pension for her. Honorine reveals to Cesar the possibility of her daughter marrying Panisse. In turn, Cesar questions Marius about his feelings towards Fanny, who answers he is unsure of loving her sufficiently for marriage and of the existence of another woman he is not inclined to let go, but the real sticking point is his secret desire to head to sea. Fanny refuses Panisse and seeks to delve into Marius' feelings for her. "I love you, and, if I could marry, it would be with you," he answers. But yet he feels the sea calling him. "I long for elsewhere," he admits. One day, Honorine comes charging into the bar, angry and weeping, with Marius' belt in her hand. She found him sleeping with her daughter and tells Cesar she wants them married at once. Meanwhile, Marius strikes a deal with the quartermaster of a ship leaving port, but still hesitates about whether he should leave. Fanny reassures him. "I am not a trap, Marius," she says. "Since you prefer the sea, marry her." She will nevertheless wait for him during his three-year voyage. At the bar, she calls Cesar over and distracts his attention while his son slips out without being noticed towards the port.

Edouard Bourdet


Edouard Bourdet (1887-1945) contributed a Boulevard satire in high society, "La fleur des pois" (Cream of the crop, 1932) and a Boulevard drama, "Vient de paraître" (Hot off the press, 1927) concerning the seedy side of fiction writing.

In Hot off The Press, “Bourdet presents various types of people in the literary world, all slightly caricatured, but his satire touches only lightly the commercialism that threatens literary production” (Knowles, 1967 p 268).

"Cream of the crop"

Trouble starts when one considers who will represent Amphitrite beside Toto's Neptune. Painting of Neptune and Amphitrite by Jan Gossaert (1478-1532), 1516

Time: 1932. Place: Paris, France.

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As a main lynchpin for entry into high society, Princess Zaza Volitzine, widow of a Russian prince, though not of the blood, helped Metekian organize his evening. In return, he offers her an expensive necklace, which, without informing him, she returns to the jeweler to cash in the amount. She next receives the visit of Mrs Villemain and her widowed niece, Madeleine, the latter keen on being launched into high society. The princess shows little enthusiasm for this project until Madeline reveals the extent of her wealth, after which she recommends regular church attendance and a change of name to Papou along with brushing up on her piano playing, golf game, and English comprehension. The princess next receives the visit of Albert Tavernier, part owner of an automobile company, interested in publicizing his new car model to her friends so that the mass public will follow. She proposes a series of evening parties at a rich person’s house or expensive restaurant at one of three levels of expense, organized by her but secretly paid by him. He chooses the mid-level one, implying a dinner for 20 people followed by a reception for 40 people with buffet and a jazz orchestra to dance to, worth up to 12,000 francs plus 3,000 francs for the use of Lady Molly Whitford’s home. Her final morning visitors concern Lolotte and his homosexual partner, the duke of Anche, commonly known among intimates as Toto, who is organizing a nautical costume party with himself as Neptune and Zaza as Amphitrite, an idea that depresses Lolotte. Likewise, at Lady Whitford’s house, Metekian is dispirited by the hopelessness of his love for a musician, Serge Grigorieff, whom he saw kissing a woman inside a taxi and becomes even more dispirited when Molly, unaware of his sexual orientation, offers to show him her new Matisse paintings in the bedroom. Because Charlie was seen entering Hedwige’s house late at night with her husband away, they are snubbed by the entire lot of invitees. Serge admits to Zaza that he loves a woman and even more surprising the two are married, so that Zaza proposes the arrange the matter by pretending that the kissed woman was his sister, to La Moufette’s relief as he leaves to reassure Metekian. Molly’s strategy leads to nothing, so that she covers up her frustration by at least dancing with him. Albert, bored at his own party, meets Papou, looking for someone to talk with. She has heard the rumor that the new Tavernier-Lecomte car is mediocre, which he denies. He invites her to the next Volitzine dinner and they even accept to meet again before that event until he blurts out his name and that he paid for the party, at which she walks off snubbing him. An affronted Albert is spied on by Toto, which precipitates a scene of jealousy on the part of Lolotte. Seeing his drunken state, Zaza advises Albert to sleep it off, but he refuses. On Toto’s insistence, she presents him to Albert, who tells him about the Papou episode. Toto sympathizes and expresses an interest in visiting his factory. Seeing the two together, Lolotte is enraged all the more and is restrained by his friends until falling into a beaten down state. Informed about Toto’s interest in Albert and as the man who paid for the party, many express an interest in knowing him, including Papou, who reminds him of his offer to dance. Instead, Albert stalks off to dance with Molly. At the factory, Lecomte is displeased about Albert’s slow progress, who defends himself until Toto is announced, but he is too tired to receive him and so retires to sleep. Instead, Lecomte receives him, whose interest in the visitor increases when he expresses the desire to be driven by Albert to his castle and perhaps buy their new car. Lecomte rushes off to wake Albert while the count expresses to Zaza his disappointment in the car manufacturer, a man who dared to decline the offer of becoming the sixth triton in Neptune’s train. While Toto leaves to consult his costume designer though promising to return, Zaza encourages Albert to accept the triton invitation, but he refuses again, along with the invitation to the duke’s castle, as he suspects the man to be a homosexual. Nevertheless, a decided Zaza drives off to fetch his clothes while Papou enters to be forgiven, but she wants more: the duke’s invitation to join the nautical party. Albert agrees to help her provided she, in turn, agrees for a Sunday drive towards a hotel. Offended, she refuses, but then accepts at least to kiss him after he hits on the idea of asking her to join the duke and him at the castle. At first enraged, the duke accepts on discovering her to be a charming woman. Since a third room is unprepared, the duke sends Albert off to an inn while seducing Papou, now promised a nereid’s part in the nautical party. At the duke’s Paris residence, Charlie is reintegrated in the gang, because a false rumor has circulated of his separation from Hedwige. Informed about Toto’s night of love with Papou, Lolotte returns to warn his old friend that high society may yet avenge itself on him. The duke dismisses the idea and instead requests Papou a second time to inform Albert of their night together. He then declares to the company at large a change in Neptune’s program, the tritons and nereids to enter mixed together instead of apart, the latter astride of the former, and Papou acting as the new Amphitrite. Informed about the Toto-Papou affair by Zaza and then by Papou herself, Albert threatens to win Toto for himself unless the duke buys a car of his. Papou doubts that he can. Alone with Albert, Toto proposes to rearrange Neptune’s program as before should Albert accept him as a lover, but he declines the offer.

"Hot off the press"

A publisher and his authors enter into conflict when combining the work-place with their personal lives

Time: 1920s. Place: Paris, France.

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A book publisher, Moscat, attempts to influence members of an award committee so that one of his authors, Marechal, can obtain a prestigious literary prize, but after learning that the author signed with a rival book publisher, he arranges matters for him to lose the competition, then, to torment him, offers him more money than he had already signed for. Moscat next contacts the publisher of the award-winning author named Mark and buys the rights of the novel. He asks to see Mark, but first meets his wife, Jacqueline, who, without her husband's consent, submitted his work for the prize. She and Moscat convince Mark to quit his clerk's position at the ministry to become a full-time author. But the plan does not pan out. Unable to continue with the second novel, Mark explains to Moscat that the first one was easier, being based on the real-life journal of a young girl. When Moscat finds out the young girl in question is his wife, he proposes that she should enter into a relationship with Marechal, whom he has forgiven and re-hired, and write down a second journal, with which her husband may find once more his inspiration. He invites all three to his villa, but things do not pan out any better there, Mark being unable to get used to Marechal's presence. Meanwhile, Marechal presses Jacqueline to sleep with him, which she is reluctant to do. She discloses Moscat's plan, which incenses him. She then admits she loves him but needs more time to decide what to do. When Mark learns she intends to do a few secretarial chores for Marechal, he becomes angry. Moscat intervenes by revealing his plot to him. Both insist that Jacqueline show her journal, but it is empty. Pressed by her husband, she admits she loves Marechal and intends to go to her parents' house to think matters over. Marechal is about to join her there, but is prevented by Moscat's literary plans for him. As a result, Mark and Jacqueline are together again. She receives a visit from Marechal, not to woo her a second time, but to tell her he wrote a short story based on their relation. When Mark discovers this, he is incensed, but then reveals, to Jacqueline's and Moscat's delight, that he is also hard at work with his own novel concerning a man on the brink of losing his wife's love.

Jean Cocteau

Jean Cocteau depicted a mother with a very strong attachment to her son while the father remains all too passive, 1923

Although no life-long boulevard author as such, Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) contributed one striking play of the genre: "Les parents terribles" (Intimate relations, more precisely Outrageous parents, 1938).

"Cocteau based his play on Racine's 'Phèdre', playfully imitating its plot and then comically resolving its conflicts- with one exception- [Yvonne's suicide] and applying ironic twists to the characterization of its dramatis personae- also with one notable difference...In IV.i, Léonie departs altogether from her role as Œnone to become the restorer of order, not a cosmic order such as the gods reestablish in Phèdre, but a bourgeois social order...Cocteau seems to have asked himself what would happen if he took a situation resembling that of Racine's 'Phèdre', eliminated the gods in favor of human free will, reversed the tragic flow of events with a comic reversal in the final act" (Cohen, 2002 pp 56-65).

"A rapid examination of Les Parents Terribles might lead one to see in it an old fashioned melodrama. It is much more. In addition to being one of the most skillfully constructed plays of Cocteau, it is one of the most poignant, in a tragic sense. The theme of 'order', apparent in all of Cocteau's writings, is here more dominant than ever. The character Leo is a new Electra who has the passion for establishing order everywhere. Yvonne, the mother, is the tragic heroine who refuses to see herself and who succumbs to the domination of disorder" (Fowlie, 1942 pp 465-466).

"Ever since Michel's birth, Yvonne has more or less abandoned her husband in order to devote herself to her son. It is with Michel that she is in love, and she does her best to keep him at home and in a state of childish dependence. She refuses to let him take a job, denies him spending money, and will not hear of him taking a drawing class in which there are nude models! The sexual undercurrent in Yvonne's love is made quite explicit from the start: we see her hurriedly powdering her face when she thinks that Michel is about to arrive; and, when Léonie tells her that Georges is seeing another woman, her protestation contains an especially revealing slip of the tongue: "Without doubt Michel cheated on me, too, I mean lied to me, too'...Kept close to Yvonne, infected by her disorder, Michel possesses the disconcerting naiveté of a child...There is something slightly endearing, no doubt, in the family's childishness, but there is also something suspicious...No doubt we could add that Georges is a 'père enfant' who cannot escape from the imaginary universe of Jules Verne and whose every step in the play is directed by his sister-in-law" (Bach, 1993, pp 32-33).

“Whether her feelings for her sister’s husband, her ex-fiancé, in any way affect her attitude it is hard to sat; in any case, Léo herself does not know, nor does she care to know. The whole action, which moves forward inexorably to the mother’s death, is set in motion by the son’s failure to return home one night. In an admirable first act, the characters face up to reality for the first time in twenty years, and say what they have on their minds. The father learns that he and his son have the same mistress, but the situation, current in boulevard comedy, here has a poignancy not to be found on the boulevard. The second act shows the attempt of the father, in his monstrous egoism, and of the mother, in her monstrous possessiveness, to prevent the son’s engagement to the girl. The third act is given to the torment of the mother, who cannot accept to share her son with any other. Her passion, as absolute as any child- there is not the slightest hint of any subconscious incest in her attitude- raises her to the level of a figure of tragedy. She us like one possessed. Beside her, Léo, statuesque, stands like destiny herself” (Knowles, 1967 pp 59-60).

Agate (1944) wondered about this play as follows: “sitting in the theatre the other evening I tried to put myself into the position of the young man in this play and to ask myself which, as a young Frenchman, I should find the more shocking— the revelation that my fiancee’s former protector was my own father, or the fact that by pretending to be in love with me she was carrying on an affair with yet another man. I found I had no difficulty whatever in deciding that the second alternative was the more terrible. What, then, would have happened if the young lady, putting herself in the boy’s place, had realized this, and then declined to be blackmailed?” (p 203). She chooses the first because it takes into account not only her young man’s pain but the father’s, whereas the second does not. Léonie is on one hand “the voice of reason who explains the characters to themselves...on the other, a frustrated old maid who missed her chance for happiness out of a false sense of dedication to her sister...The impact of Les Parents Terribles comes from the brutal frankness with which it reveals the pathology of a fairly typical bourgeois family” (Oxenhandler, 1957 pp 187-192).

It “is a real bourgeois drama in the strict sense of the word with tragic, comic, and vaudevillesque overtones...The play begins in the manner of a Racinian tragedy with a crisis, Yvonne’s attempted suicide...[Michel’s growth] has been stunted by an overly domineering mother...He bangs on the door when hurt, seeks refuge in his room when rejected by Madeleine, moans, sobs. He is forever embracing his mother, confiding in her, loving her. He even denies the actual mother-son relationship by never referring to her as mother but rather as Sophie...The scenes in which Yvonne confesses her love for her son is voluptuous and passionate. They clearly indicate that she lives through her son and he through her...The father, Georges, like the son, is a weak man...Rejected by his wife, Yvonne, in favor of their son, Michel, he takes Madeleine as his mistress...Only at the end of the play does Georges emerge as a half-masculine type, perhaps in the same way as did his son. Though he has not the courage to speak out for himself, he permits his sister-in-law, the play’s good spirit, to make matters right” (Knapp, 1970 pp 113-116).

“Nowhere else does Cocteau succeed so clearly as a man of the theatre, nor does he display in his other works the depth of character study that he has here created...The mother, Yvonne, neglects her husband and saves all her passionate affection for her son...Few plays in the modern theatre have the economy, the telling efficiency of ‘Terrible parents’; we have here a social satire more biting than anything in Becque’s: the lies, petty jealousies pile up for the earth to open” (Lumley, 1967 p 112).

"Outrageous parents"

Played by Gabrielle Dorziat (1880-1979) in the original production of 1938, Aunt Leonie attempts in vain to prevent Ivonne from interfering with her son's love

Time: 1930s. Place: France.

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Ivonne, along with her husband, George, and their 22-year-old son, Michael, live in a gypsy caravan on a legacy obtained from her sister, Aunt Leonie, who manages the house for all of them. Ivonne is often careless, not only regarding the condition of the house but also her insulin-dependent diabetes. She is emotionally dependent on her son, to the extent of advising him to refuse job offers so that he can remain with her. The entire household is upset when Michael spends a single night away from his parent's house without calling them up. Ivonne becomes all the more frantic on learning he is in love with a woman named Madeleine. Without learning anything about her other than her age and generosity in occasionally paying for Michael's meals and cigarettes, Ivonne flies into a rage, calling her "a piece of shit", grabbing her son in desperation, and yelling out the window for no reason. Leonie attempts to reason with Ivonne, underlining the sacrifices she has undergone on their behalf, including the love she still feels for George, whom she abandoned for her sister's sake. George is all the more devastated after learning that his son's intended is his mistress. George and Lenonie decide to force Ivonne to let Michael go, to which Ivonne heartily agrees, though not for the same reason. All three go over to Madeleine's house, where Madeleine discovers that Michael's father is her former lover. Left alone with her, George threatens that, unless she abandons Michael, he will reveal the nature of their adulterous relation to his son, so that she would probably lose him in any case. Madeleine is at first unwilling to give up Michael, but finally feels forced to do so. The terrible parents and Leonie reveal to Michael that Madeleine has another lover, which he refuses to believe at first, but, after looking at his silent lover, finally does so. To help Michael recover from this blow, Ivonne smothers her son all the more. Recognizing his egotism in this affair and as an eyewitness to his son's despair, George changes his mind. He and Leonie tell Ivonne that they should reveal the truth to their son, but she resists the mere thought of her son abandoning her again. At the same time, Ivonne correctly guesses that Madeleine was her husband's mistress. Despite her resistance, George and Leonie tell Michael the truth, now overjoyed at the news. As everyone celebrates the lovers' reunion, Ivonne slips away and injects herself, not with her usual dose of insulin, but with a lethal poison.

Pierre Wolff

Pierre Wolff showed worldly people as marionettes of their own desires. Photo of the author taken by Paul Boyer (1861–1908) from the journal Illustration Théâtrale, 22 April 1905, No 10, Paris

Pierre Wolff (1865-1944) wrote racy dialogue of rare merit in the Boulevard vein and achieved best results in “Les marionnettes” (Marionettes, 1910). His main weakness is usually an undeveloped story-line.

"In his plots, Wolff is never original. Nothing could be more trite than the story of Marionettes (1910), with its husband, neglectful of his wife, but brought back to her side as soon as she piques his jealousy. Here, and in Forbidden Love (1911), what counts is the dramatist's knowledge of the heart and his skill in the use of detail...Supple and pliant in talent, he understands to a nicety the art of play-making. His dialogue is bright and clear, by turns tender or ironic; his pieces are marked by skill in the progress of their action and by their use of contrasts" (Chandler, 1920 p 118).


Fernande's change of personality disturbs Pierre, respectively played by Alla Nazimova and Frank Gillmore at New York’s Lyceum Theatre, 1912

Time: 1910s. Place: Paris, France.

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Because Roger, marquis of Monclars, dilapidated his possessions, his mother offered him to live on a fixed income provided he marry her friend, Fernande, a condition he accepts because of the money. Although Fernande says she loves him, Roger does not believe her and in any case has no intention of even pretending to love her, particularly because of her timid manners. He declares his intention of heading towards Nice for a month but all the while stays at Montreux to sleep with his mistress, which she eventually learns about. To excite lust and jealousy, Fernande replaces her modest clothes for bolder ones and starts to flirt and dance with men at social events. Pierre Vareine, once a sympathizer of her plight, is stunned and distressed at seeing her behavior now. She talks with him openly yet no longer wishes to receive the roses he is in the habit of sending her. Roger is even more distressed at her behavior than Pierre, insisting in particular that she stop smoking before others. At the end of a marionette show, Fernande is pleased at the looks of the one representing the guilty woman. “Why should I be made of wood?” she wonders. In Fernande’s boudoir near midnight, Roger’s uncle, Ferney, tries to reconcile the couple but finds Roger cold on this subject. “Let Fernande do as she wishes,” he says. “Having given her no love, I have no right to demand any.” Alone with Fernande, Pierre declares his love, but she is still thinking of the one she lost. “I dreamed crazily, ardently at all childish, passionate things a man I love would know how to say,” she says. “I dreamed. I dreamed. And I met this man and I dressed up this mannequin with my fondest illusions. And all of them fell in tatters.” She is shaken but promises nothing. When Ferney questions Fernande, she says she no longer loves her husband. But when Ferney tests her by lying in having heard her husband say he would return only in the morning, she cries out in distress. Ferney is convinced that she loves Roger and he loves her, but she doubts it. Late at night, she receives a telephone call from Pierre, who asks her to leave her husband. As Fernande thinks it over, Roger sneaks up from behind and pulls the receiver from her hands, convinced that she has already slept with another man. Holding her by the throat, he insists on knowing who he is, but she reveals nothing. The next day, he nervously asks his friend, Nizerolles, about the men he found visiting his wife while he was at Montreux, but is unable to discover who it is. “Everything about her revolted me before,” Roger confesses, “everything about her shakes and attracts me now.” When Ferney discovers his state of mind, he is convinced that she has him now. “You hold the string of the marionette,” he states. “Hold it well or watch out.” Deciding at last to leave her, Roger declares he has left a note to his notary concordant with her interests. “My only regret, you see,” he declares, “is of having loved you at the precise moment when you no longer did, because I want to believe you once loved me.” She says she still does and as a result he chooses to remain.

Henri Bernstein

Henri Bernstein showed how a business man resenting his enemies destroys himself along with them, 1936

Boulevard grimness achieves a sort of peak with Henri Bernstein (1876-1953)'s "Samson" (1907), when an investor dilapidates his and other people's fortune because of a woman. "Most of all the current French writers, [Bernstein] carries on the Scribe-Sardou tradition, each one of his plays being built to the old specifications around some thrilling situation" (Burrill, 1920 p 47). “Bernstein is held to be the continuer of the Scribe tradition- the effort to get the greatest possible emotional excitement out of three or four acts” (Moderwell, 1972 p 161).

"Samson" "recounts the story of a terrible vengeance...The fearful power of the vengeful Jew, and his repression in the presence of the helpless Le Govain, are depicted in the author's best manner" (Clark, 1916 pp 171-172). "The Jewish banker in 'Israel' (1908), portrayed with no great sympathy, gives place, in Bernstein's 'Samson' (1908), to a Jew as protagonist developing under adversity and eventually winning the admiration of his wife. She, who had married him for his money, had once, out of resentment at this choice of her father, allied herself for an evening with a wretched lover. Her husband, instead of meeting his rival in a duel, invites him to dinner, and announces over the dessert that he has forced down the shares of Egyptian copper, in which both are interested. The ruin he has thus imposed upon his enemy will become his own disaster. His wife, who has already found the lover repugnant, now admires the heroism of her husband, and refuses the freedom that he offers. Jacques, in order that we may share his wife's early distaste for him, is made disagreeable at first, but is later accorded sufficient imagination to render likely his wife's return. As the critic Benoist has pointed out, we fail to think of this inconsistency until after the curtain has fallen, since it is the situation alone that absorbs our attention. As for Jacques, he is the old romantic hero revived, a cousin of Hugo's noble convict and of Dumas' virtuous courtesan. The play was remotely inspired by Lavedan's Le Prince d'Aurec (1892), and more directly by Guinon's Decadence (1901)" (Chandler, 1920 pp 46-47).


Like the Biblical Samson portrayed by Max Liebermann (1847-1935), James destroys himself to take down his enemies

Time: 1900s. Place: Paris, France.

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Grace is indignant about the sudden way her lover, Jerome, left her once he began to make money, thanks to the financial advice of a sharp investor, James. Despite receiving such favors, Jerome initiates an adulterous relation with James' wife, Anne-Marie. To spite Jerome, Grace reveals to James she has reason to suspect his Anne-Marie is also unfaithful and therefore advises him to pretend to go on a business trip and then surprise her by showing up unexpectedly at his house. He accepts and, as Grace anticipated, does not find her in his house late at night. When he confronts her, Anne-Marie reveals she does not love him any more and admits that Jerome is her lover. As a result, he angrily locks her inside her room. "Do you know, sir, that you have become grotesque?" she asks sarcastically, but promises to remain there. James confirms to Grace that Jerome, her lover, is also his wife's lover. Yet Grace admits she is still hoping to marry Jerome, though conscious he is "incapable of love, but yet a lover." One day, James invites Jerome to dinner. In passing, Jerome mentions he invested even more heavily than he has in the past in Egyptian Copper stocks. Although James is an administrator of that company whose stock they have both profited on, he nevertheless finds that move imprudent. He reveals he has arranged for that stock to fall abruptly at the Stock Exchange, ruining both himself and him, like Samson striking down the pillars over the Philistines' heads. After hearing about the Stock Exchange crash, Anne-Marie's parents and her brother suggest she should divorce James, all the more so after learning he might be arrested for fraudulent practices on the market, but she assures both how he has a minister's word that he will not be prosecuted provided he respects his engagements. Unexpectedly, Anne-Marie declines to divorce him, willing instead to wait and discover whether she can learn to love him.

Marcel Aymé

Marcel Aymé showed that one can be easy about an unfortunate outcome when it concerns other people's heads, 1929

In a manner similar to Bernstein's, Marcel Aymé in "La tête des autres" (Other people's heads, 1952) took up the seedy side of criminal investigations.

"Other people's heads"


Time: 1950s. Place: A fictionalized country called Poldavia.

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Court prosecutor Maillard and his family and friends are overjoyed at his obtaining a guilty verdict against Valorin for murder. But Maillard is stunned on seeing the convicted man in his own house, escaped from prison, even more so after learning the disbelieved alibi the innocent man used in court was the truth. Valorin said he was sleeping with an unknown woman at the moment the crime was committed, who turns out to be Roberta, with whom Maillard enjoys an adulterous relation. Roberta wants to hush up the matter, because her reputation is likely to suffer among her worldly friends. When Valorin returns after washing up, Roberta takes his gun and fires, with no result, because he took the precaution of emptying it. Maillard is forced to reveal the truth to Roberta's husband, Prosecutor Bertholier, who, though cursing her, also wishes to keep his wife's adultery a secret, promising with the help of the police to capture the true murderer. In the meantime, Maillard allows Valorin to live inside his house. Valorin attracts the sympathy of his wife, Juliet, seen together in a compromising position by the jealous Roberta. To get the upper hand over her, Juliet lies by saying Valorin is her lover. Roberta believes the lie and reveals it to the angry Maillard. After police investigations, Bertholier thinks to hold in custody the actual murderer, a man named Gozzo, but that does not satisfy Valorin, who wants the complete truth known about his relation with Roberta. Maillard refuses to cooperate, at which Juliet threatens to expose him, having heard him reveal the truth. To keep him quiet forever, Roberta hires two men to kill Valorin, but they mistake him for Maillard until she arrives. Alone with the murderers, Valorin hears them reveal the true murderer, not Gozzo but a man named Dujardin. When the assassins needlessly quarrel over their children's education, he seizes the opportunity of taking away their guns. Stunned at this turn of events, Roberta denies any intention to murder him, intending only to intimidate. They learn the killers work under a mighty kingpin of crime called Alessandrovici. Hoping to free the guiltless Gozzo, Valorin and the two prosecutors visit Alessandrovici, who, a witness of Dujardin's incompetence, agrees to yield him to the police.

Robert Thomas


Boulevard drama veers again towards a murder story, this time with eight female suspects in “Huit femmes” (Eight women, 1958) by Robert Thomas (1927-1989).

“Eight women”

A father is stabbed to death among eight women. Who is the culprit?

Time: 1950s. Place: Rural, France.

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After a year-long stay at a British college, Suzon returns to her family berth in the midst of a snowstorm, greeted by her mother, Gaby, her maiden aunt, Augustine, her maternal grandmother, and her younger sister, Catherine. She is surprised, however, that her father, Marcel, appears to be still asleep at 11 AM. The family freezes in horror when a screaming servant, Louise, walks down to reveal that her master has been stabbed to death with a knife, a fact confirmed by Catherine, who locks the door so that the police inspector can investigate the room intact. But Suzon, Gaby, and Augustine go upstairs to see for themselves, petrified on the landing at seeing the knife, the back, and the blood. While attempting to call the police, Suzon notices that it is out of order, since someone has cut the phone line. Another worrisome detail is that the watchdogs were silent all night, indicating that no visitor unknown of them could have entered the house. Taking her apart, Granny tells Suzon that, in exchange for her accommodation, she proposed to her son-in-law to sell her shares. He refused, because the amount was insufficient to save him from financial ruin. Since then, someone has stolen these shares. When Suzon informs Granny that everyone in the house knew she kept her shares under her pillow, she cries out that a thief is lurking in the house. Wanting her part in the shares, Augustine accuses her sister of stealing them and attacks her, but they are forced apart. Determined to reach the police station, Gaby is unable to, because the wires to the motor of her car have been cut. They hear a sound outside, affrighted that the murderer might have decided to come back. It is Marcel’s sister, Pierrette, explaining that she received a phone call informing her of Marcel’s death. To her horror, the family reveals that it is true. She specifies that the call originated from a female voice she failed to recognize. She insists on looking inside the dead man’s room, but the key handed to her is the wrong one. Distraught, she accuses the family of harboring a conspiracy against her while Gaby fires back her own suspicions. Facing Augustine, Pierrette informs the family that she discovered a letter in a book mistakenly left by Augustine since they belong to the same book club, a letter mentioning a quarrel between she and her mother over the shares. A frustrated Augustine sounds off against her brother’s numerous adulteries. “And I would have given my shares so that he could carry them to his mistresses?” she scoffs sarcastically. Pierrette denies having ever been inside the house, but Suzon has discovered from Louise’s lips that Pierrette is in the habit of playing cards with another female servant, Mrs Chanel, at the hunting pavilion away from the house on the family grounds. Suzon also noticed that no barking was heard from the dogs as Pierrette walked up to the house. Pierrette finally admits that Marcel helped her out once or twice with some money. When Suzon further inquires what everyone was doing on the night of the murder, an irritated Augustine remembers how Catherine swore at her and instantly proceeds to scratch her. Seething with thoughts of revenge, Catherine accuses her aunt of holding a knife in her room as she watched though the keyhole of her door. Augustine counters that she was holding her mother-of-pearl comb. In a panic that she may become a suspect, Louise finally admits that she saw Pierrette in her brother’s room the previous night and that Pierrette gave her money to keep the matter quiet. Moreover, she heard Pierrette say to her brother: “if you don’t hand over that money, I’ll kill you.” Pierrette avers that the correct wording was “if you don’t hand over that money, I’ll kill myself.” Irritated at her sister’s self-assumed role as an amateur inspector, Catherine reveals that she saw Suzon inside the house the previous night. The stunned family hear Suzon confess that she indeed met her father for advice on the matter of her pregnancy as Louise rushes in to inform the family that the front gate is locked shut so that no one can leave the grounds. The following day, the family discovers that the watchdogs appear to be sick after being poisoned. Feeling defenseless, Gaby and Augustine reach to take out a revolver from a drawer, but it has disappeared. Seeming stoic, Augustine stands to announce something, but soon faints, the consequence of having neglected her medication for a heart condition, according to Granny. The family looks about for the vials, but are unable to find any until Suzon discovers them under her mother’s bed. “Someone wanted to compromise me,” Gaby declares. Suzon also discovered her mother’s traveling bags filled up, as if preparing to leave. More suspicions arise when Granny takes up the subject of why she noticed Mrs Chanel’s coat and headscarf later than the time she said she left the house. Mrs Chanel confesses that she played cards with Marcel and Pierrette in her master’s room, the victim of their cheating scam. Pierrette switches suspicions over to Louise’s side after revealing that before being engaged to work as a servant, Louise was Marcel’s mistress. Augustine suggests that Gaby killed her husband after discovering the two lovers together. Suddenly, the water heater explodes and cushions are needed to soak out the water. Gaby grabs one but her objecting mother pulls at it on her side so that it rips open, revealing shares hidden inside. “And my part?” Augustine cries out. “Miser, liar, assassin, thief!” Her mother pushes her away. “It’s my money,” she declares. “If I live another twenty years, who will feed me?” “But they are no longer worth anything,” Augustine retorts while looking them over. “You can throw them away.” She now wants to know what she did with the cash. The conflict is interrupted by Mrs Chanel who, believing to have solved the murder mystery, rushes towards the terrace to verify some matter. Thinking that Mrs Chanel herself is the culprit, the family hides away from her. As Mrs Chanel returns, a shot is heard and she falls. When the women carry her to bed and examine her, no trace of any bullet is found. However, they notice that Pierrette has disappeared. When the suspicious women search her bag, they find a revolver inside. Convinced that they have discovered the assassin, Louise suddenly remembers that Pierrette was left alone while their coffee was brewing, so that it might be poisoned. When Pierrette returns from the bathroom, the family insists on her drinking the coffee. She refuses until Catherine drinks hers, only to reveal that the latter put away the liquid without anyone noticing. Thinking to have been poisoned, Pierrette collapses in fear. While the rest of the women take out a ladder to try climbing over the garden wall, Pierrette confesses to Gaby to have received money from her husband and given it to her lover. To her astonishment, Pierrette recognizes the envelope the money was kept in from Gaby’s bag, both women with same lover, Marcel’s business associate. However, the money has disappeared. Frustrated, Pierrette advances to attack Gaby until the latter grabs hold of the revolver. They struggle until it goes off though neither is harmed. When the other women return after being unable to climb over, Catherine reveals her latest idea that the murderess is Mrs Chanel, who, to cast suspicions away from her, had deliberately fired the revolver and faked being a victim. As she walks out to follow the supposed murderess, Gaby confronts her sister, accusing her of stealing the money hidden in the envelope. They struggle until Catherine is carried in after being struck on the head by a candleholder. Recovering consciousness, she accuses Suzon as her attacker, who now becomes the main suspect. In turn, Suzon accuses Catherine after discovering a piece of her pyjamas in the passageway leading to the watchdogs. To the surprise of the women, barking is heard from the watchdogs, still alive after all. Mrs Chanel enters to solve the mystery. But after realizing how Mrs Chanel had spotted Marcel still alive in the house, Catherine confesses that her father is still alive, that they both staged his death, and now plan to escape together away from the group of tormenting women. But her triumph is of brief duration when a shot rings out and Marcel is discovered to have killed himself.

Claude Magnier

Magnier showed how confusions arise when an employee mistakes his fiancée with the employer’s daughter

Hectic behaviors on the subject of marriage and money reach a sort of pinnacle with “Oscar” (1958) written by Claude Magnier (1920-1983).


Tensions worsen between Bert and his employee, Chris, when they confuse suitcases holding cash and jewels. Kärlich theatre group, Mülheim-Kärlich, Germany, 2010s

Time: 1950s. Place: France

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Bert Barnier is disagreeably surprised when awakened at his residence early one morning by one of his employees, Christian Martin, and even more so after finding out that the reason is that the employee asks for a raise from 1,100 francs per month to 500,000 to marry a rich girl. He refuses, but when Chris reminds him of his contributions to the company along with his knowledge of some of their misleading advertisements and more especially informs him that one of his competitors offered him a job, Bert offers him 350,000 francs a month. Even more surprising than his first request, Chris informs his employer that the girl he wants to marry is his daughter. Bert advises him that he wishes for a more brilliant marriage. Chris replies that he intends to yield to her his entire fortune of 44,723,000 francs. Stunned, Bert asks him how he could have amassed such an amount. ‘I stole it from you,” Chris answers, more precisely over 51 million, but spent the difference during the last 18 months. Yet no 51 million is missing on the account books, because an error in calculation on his part went undetected and so he pocketed the money. He now expects an appointment as commercial director of the company at 700,000 francs per month. Nonplussed for an answer at the moment, Bert calls for his daughter, Colette, to inform her about what he knows about her lover. She replies that, without any word from him for 15 days, she thought he had abandoned her. He withholds his opinion as to his consent so that, to help her out, the housemaid, Bernadette, suggests that she should pretend to be pregnant. The scheme works, Bert feeling forced to yield his consent. Soon after, a girl named Jacqueline requests to see him, explaining that she lies “in a desperate situation”. She loves a man named Christian Martin. Bert interrupts her to say that a moment ago the man asked his daughter to marry him. In turn, she informs him that she pretended to be his daughter. “That marriage proposal he came up to ask,” she declares, “was for me.” Stunned again, Bert crumples in his chair, but promises to say nothing to Chris provided she lie still in the library room. To make certain he understands the entire business, he interrogates his wife, Germaine, and Colette about the name of his daughter’s lover. “It is Oscar,” Colette answers. Stunned yet again, Bert is informed that Colette’s lover is their chauffeur, the one he fired 15 days ago. Colette bursts into tears. Germaine opines that she still prefers the chauffeur rather than her husband’s first choice, Baron La Butinière. When Chris returns, he runs over to an uncomprehending Germaine and asks permission to call her “mother”. Bert takes the young man apart and explains that to convince Germaine about the necessity of this marriage between he and his youngest daughter, Jacqueline, he should yield his fortune to Jacqueline at once. Having bought jewels for the entire amount, Chris is willing to run out and get them, and informs him that Oscar signed a contract to join the foreign legion for six years. A further surprise is that La Butinière, once meant as a husband for his daughter, is now engaged to Bernadette. When Chris returns with the suitcase, Bert informs him that his daughter is pregnant and so they agree to sign a mutual agreement; on Chris’ part, it is as follows: “I recognize to be the father of the child Miss Barnier is expecting” and on Bert’s part, it is as follows: “I promise to restitute to my daughter the 44 million in jewels the day she will wed Mr Christian Martin”. Bert escorts Jacqueline from the library and advises her to tell the truth to Chris, a man no longer in his employ. When she does, Christian is abashed at having lost 44 million for nothing. Upset at his attitude, Jacqueline runs away in tears as Bert explains he is expecting Chris to marry Colette as signed in the agreement. But when Colette compares Chris to her father’s masseur, Philip, she prefers the latter. Worried about ongoing business matters, Bert takes Chris back in his employ and signs papers dealing with exportation of merchandise, along with one Chris sneaked in. On her way out of the house, Bernadette mistakenly takes the suitcase containing Bert’s jewels and leaves her own behind while Bert convinces Philip to marry Colette, all the more so because the masseur wants a child and is impotent. But when Bert shows him the suitcase containing the proposed dowry, a puzzled Philip takes out a bra from it. At that sight, Bert runs around in circles in a panic. As Colette prepares to toast her wedding with her parents, Oscar returns with the news that he was denied entry into the foreign legion because of his flat feet. Luckily for Bert, Bernadette returns with his suitcase and takes away her own, except that in the meantime Bert calls up the baron to ask for his suitcase. Unable to find Jacqueline, a despondent Chris returns to Bert with the news that he has stolen another 50 million from him, since the paper he signed yields all his personal fortune over to him. Chris proposes to trade a suitcase containing 50 million in cash for the suitcase containing 44 million in jewels. Bert laughs, hands over what he considers to be Bernadette’s suitcase but is actually his own, and, unaware of where Jacqueline is, invents a fake address Chris runs out with. Meanwhile, Oscar, ashamed at their unequal social rank, has left Colette again, this time up to the north pole and the baron’s messenger arrives with what he thinks is Bert’s suitcase but is actually Bernadette’s and takes away the one with the jewels, so that when Bert offers Philip his dowry a second time, the masseur takes out a bra a second time. At that renewed sight, Bert yells in grief and runs out of the room as if insane. Later, he nevertheless acknowledges Jacqueline’s presence and leaves her in the next room, confident of Chris’ return. Chris returns in a depressed state, since the fake address led him to a whorehouse, and so with Jacqueline no better than a whore, he has carried back the suitcase containing the cash. An overjoyed Bert leads an overjoyed Chris to Jacqueline and then welcomes the new housemaid, Charlotte, who turns out to be his parents’ old housemaid, more surprising still he learns that the child he left her pregnant in is Jacqueline, his daughter after all. Joy radiates even further when Oscar returns with the news that he has won the company’s contest of a trip to Hollywood and is bringing Colette along with him as Bernadette returns with the suitcase containing the jewels. However, more panic ensues when in the midst of the family revelry, Charlotte goes away with the wrong suitcase again.

Albert Husson


Money matters also predominate when Albert Husson (1912-1978) showed the highs and lows of private financing in ”Le système Fabrizzi” (The Fabrizzi system, 1963), a comedic drama under the influence of Pirandello, especially in the character of Inspector Paco as a representative of reason commenting on the action in an abstract or philosophic manner. Antonio possesses some of the characteristics of the main character in Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Idiot (1868).

”The Fabrizzi system”

Antonio’s system of lending at 3% interest and borrowing at 30% interest draws the attention of a bank manager, a priest, the police, and his mother-in-law

Time: 1960s. Place: near Rome, Italy.

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Antonio Fabrizzi receives the visit of Monsignor Ottavia, but having clients to attend to, can only offer him to wait awhile on his terrace. Antonio’s first client is Fausto, who wishes to buy a car but is unable to pay 10% interest. Antonio offers him a loan at 3% interest. A happy Fausto suggests that he should sign a receipt, but Antonio declines. Instead he offers his client to come back for a second loan whenever Fausto wants to buy an engagement ring for his girlfriend. The second client to walk in is Mrs Varella. She wants back her loan of 600,000 lire, afraid to lose all her money in view that a neighbor of hers who works at a bank told her that a man accepting a loan at 30% interest is crazy. But when Antonio immediately heads for his money box to take out bills for her, she changes her mind, needing the generous interest for her daughter’s dowry. The third person to walk in is Caducchi, a butcher who has heard of Antonio’s borrowing rate of 30% interest and wants to know more. Because Antonio suspects that Caducchi is well off, he declines to handle his money. But to Monsignor Ottavia who overheard his business practices from the terrace and knows about loans to poor priests Antonio offers his usual loan at 3% interest to pay for a seminary. Monsignor Ottavia declines the offer. “I fear what I don’t understand,” he states. As the priest leaves, Antonio’s servant, Anna, falls in the kitchen and twists her ankle so that Antonio heads to fetch a doctor, but is prevented by the arrival of Police Commissioner Nera, accompanied by Police Inspector Paco and Sardi, a bank manager. They have heard of the Fabrizzi system of loaning money and wish to understand it. Paco requests Antonio to look over his accounts. Antonio accepts, but after seeing Paco calculate the amounts taken in and the amounts taken out, he changes his mind. “You will be caught,” Paco declares on his way out, “it is of a mathematic certainty.” While Antonio speaks to a doctor concerning Anna’s mishap, a bedraggled 17-year-old, Amelia, walks into the empty room looking for something to steal but is discovered by Commissioner Nera, who returned hoping to find the account booklet and threatens to send her to jail for several of her misdemeanors unless she acts as a spy for him in the Fabrizzi household. She reluctantly accepts, all the more facilitated by Antonio’s need of a servant girl in view of Anna’s accident. A few days later, Monsignor Ottavia returns to propose to Antonio a place in the church. He declines. Aware of Amelia’s presence in the house, the priest leaves with the following recommendation. “When I pass through this door, you’ll laugh no doubt,” he says. “I tell you nevertheless to take care. The best of women, not far from the worst, as they say, may lead a man to his ruin, you hear me, to his ruin.” For her part, Amelia is amazed at how Antonio runs the house compared with several men of the past who have taken advantage of her. When Antonio approaches her, she supposes it is an action dictated by desire until he lifts his arm to slap her, but then he desists and leaves the room. Nera returns for news. When Amelia describes Antonio’s gesture, he suggests that she accuse him of sexual abuse, subject to incarceration from 3 months to 3 years, even longer if he gratified his wish without her consent. She pretends to accept and then repeats Nera’s proposition to Antonio. To her astonishment, Antonio suggests that she proceed to the police station with her accusation, after which Nera returns to arrest Antonio. In contrast, Paco offers the accused a deal: to annul the complaint provided he hand over his accounts. As a show of confidence, Paco tears up the complaint. Antonio accepts. Paco did so all the more gladly because Nera himself slept with Amelia before knowing Antonio. After the police officers leave, Antonio receives the visit of Amelia’s mother, Mrs Sartori, who, aware of the complaint, expresses shock, not because of Antonio’s supposed deed, but because of Amelia’s ingratitude towards Antonio. In view of her financial woes, she is stunned to hear Antonio offer her access to his strong-box and leaves after promising to take advantage of a loan on his part as her daughter enters mesmerized to hear yet another surprise, an offer of marriage, which she accepts. A few days later, Mrs Sartori returns laden with a wedding gift, followed shortly by Mrs Varella, who has heard of the bride’s reputation, but then, informed that she is speaking to the bride’s mother, rushes out ashamed. Guessing what he mother’s intentions are, Amelia invites her out. Soon after, alone with Antonio, Paco returns with the news that, if everyone pays his dues, the generous lender will hold a deficit of 103,000 million lire. Paco assumes that Antonio possesses that sum, and so announces to an overjoyed Sardi that Antonio will henceforth deposit all his money at his bank. After the two visitors leave, Antonio begins to pack a suitcase with the intention to escape, recommending Amelia to take the rest of his money. But he is interrupted by Nera, holding a financial report on him. Despite Nera’s warnings, Antonio runs off. Nera shoots but misses him as Amelia bumps him from behind. Later in the day, Nera is joined by Paco, Sardi, and Monsignor Ottavia. Nera’s report indicates that Antonio is a swindler, but according to Sardi’s report, Antonio is a wealthy philanthropist. Both men along with the priest are stunned when Paco declares that he has lost or is about to lose Antonio’s booklets. To the surprise of all, Fausto returns with the news that he won a huge sum at a lottery and intends to hand over his money to Antonio’s care. Having heard the fortunate news, Antonio comes back.

Marc Camoletti


Most singular among French-speaking farces of the 1960s is an airline satire, "Boeing Boeing" (1960), and a restaurant satire, “Darling chérie” (1991), by the Swiss author, Marc Camoletti (1923–2003).

"Boeing Boeing"

Trouble starts when three flight attendants change their schedules at the same time

Time: 1960s. Place: Paris, France.

Text at http://pvp.org/Play%20Reading/script_boeing-boeing.pdf https://www.joculartheatre.com/scripts/Boeing%20Boeing%20(1962).pdf

One morning at his apartment, Bernard cheerfully says goodbye to Janet, an American flight attendant and soon after greets a second girl-friend, Jacqueline, a French flight attendant, who, in turn, is followed by a third girl-friend, Judith, a German flight attendant. But Bernard is abashed after learning that Jacqueline's schedule has been altered, so that she returns to his apartment with Judith still present. Bernard suggests to Jacqueline that they head to the countryside, while his friend, Robert, remains with Judith. With Judith in another room, Robert is stunned on seeing Janet enter, because her plane was forced back as a result of a snowstorm. As she walks towards the kitchen, Judith is puzzled at discovering an unknown travel bag on the floor (Janet's), which Robert explains away by saying the bag is his. When she leaves, Janet re-enters and wonders why he is holding on so tightly to her travel bag, only to find Judith's bag, which Robert explains by saying it is his. Bernard returns alone because he and Jacqueline quarrelled in a restaurant and he does not know where she is. He proposes to Janet a walk in the country-side as he did with Jacqueline. But when Jacqueline suddenly returns, Bernard quickly ushers Janet out into another room. Jacqueline is equally puzzled at seeing Judith's travel bag, whose presence Robert explains by saying it is his. With Judith out for a walk and Janet in the bathtub, Jacqueline proposes to take a bath, too, but is prevented by Robert, who says it his turn, at which Bernard agrees. After they successfully usher Janet in the adjoining room, Judith surprises both men by saying she loves Robert just at the moment when Jacqueline returns from her bath. To her, Bernard introduces Judith as Robert's betrothed and Jacqueline as his. When Judith wants to know more about this matter, the two men interrupt her with inane discussions. After the two other women leave, Janet declares having received a letter from a millionaire who announces his intention of marrying her, which she intends to accept. For once, Bernard is all alone, and, to his regret, soon to be married.

"Darling chérie"

Trouble starts when Darling receives a marriage proposal in a restaurant and three other lovers of hers must be sent away. Le Zimmer, Paris

Time: 1990s. Place: Paris, France.

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Pretending to hold a job as a language interpreter at Strasbourg, Darling Chairy is expecting to meet her lover, Roland, at a restaurant and catering place, where she requests Raymond, the maître d’, to pretend never having seen her on these premises with other men. With Roland Rodriguez arriving and Darling off to wash her hands, he requests Raymond to say that if ever a Mrs Rodriguez calls, to pretend having seen him eat his meal with a man. When Darling returns, Roland is so keen at getting his hands all over her and she on defending herself that they neglect their plate of Iranian caviar. She lets him know her willingness to yield to his desires after a marriage proposal on his part and, to her joy, he accepts. They agree to meet that evening in her apartment after his promise to bring over a deed for 35 Texas oil wells and an order for a lobster dinner. In a manner similar to Darling’s request, the next client, Robert, asks Raymond to pretend never to have seen him with another woman, since, as a married man, he expects the company of his mistress, Daphne, knicknamed Dada. Robert also requests him to send a telephone message to his other mistress, Darling, saying that there is no reason to conduct a strike of love under the pretext of the ongoing strike of interpreters and that he intends coming over to her apartment this evening. Unknown of Robert, his friend, Richard, sends a similar telephone message to the same woman, and, as Robert did, he asks Raymond to pretend never to have seen him before, because, like Robert, he is married and expecting the arrival of his mistress, Dorothy, knicknamed Doro. When Doro, a hairdresser wearing a wig, and Dada, a manicurist with fake fingernails, arrive in the absence of the men, they complain of the difficulty of convincing their boyfriends to marry. While the two women are off to fix their hair and nails, respectively, the men complain how invasive they are, unwilling to leave them alone whenever necessary, such as Richard’s business meeting and Robert’s visit to a wealthy aunt planned for today, both unaware that their friend intends to spend his evening with Darling. The men explain the matter of Richard’s business meeting and Robert’s visit to his aunt, which the women are forced to accept. That evening, at Darling’s apartment, she receives the telegram of Robert’s intended arrival in view of the interpreters’ strike, but yet Marie-Louise, her servant, furnishes the idea of calling Roland to meet him elsewhere. More unexpected matters arise when Darling’s sister, Babette, unaware of her activities, calls up to announce her arrival, as does the manager of her apartment, so that Darling seizes the idea of asking Babette to pretend to be herself while she is away to get married. When told by Marie-Louise, presented as a fellow interpreter, a surprised Babette agrees, but instead of the manager, Richard unexpectedly shows up with a bottle of whiskey in hand and thoughts of his usual activity in mind. He surprises Babette in bed, but she manages to make him drunk from his own bottle and fall asleep. With both women away in other rooms, Bernard, yet another of Darling’s lovers and the owner of the apartment, enters with his own key, puts on his pyjamas, and goes out to another room as the doorbell rings and Marie-Louise ushers Robert in. When told of Darling’s absence, he pretends to leave but comes back again and, after hearing Babette hum a song in the bathroom, sneaks inside the bed, followed by Bernard, both surprised to find a man in bed with him. Unknown to each other, the two men discover that each paid for the same bed and stand apart to see Babette enter the bed. They then walk up to the surprised girl, requesting her to choose whom she would prefer as a lover. They are interrupted by Marie-Louise to answer the doorbell, thinking that the manager has arrived, so that Robert and Bernard head for the bathroom and Babette in the kitchen, but it is Raymond and Marcel delivering the lobster dinner. Worried about three lascivious men lurking about Babette, Marie-Louise requests the two employees to watch over Darling’s sister. They agree to enter the bed, after which the two women carry Richard over to them. But more trouble arises when Doro rings the doorbell and jostles her way in. Considering her the manager, Marie-Louise pushes Robert and Bernard over to hide inside the bed with the other three men while Doro searches the premises for Richard, whose unsent telegram was left in her hand when he forgot to pay for it. Hearing a moan from under the coverlet, Doro brandishes her bag, pretending to carry a firearm inside, so that the two employees and Bernard scurry out. To her surprise, she also discovers Robert and so calls Dada over to gaze at what her lover is up to and then discovers her own, a surprised Richard wondering how he got in bed with Robert and Robert discovering that Richard paid for the same bed. As the two leave for other mistresses, Doro eyes Bernard and Dada Marcel as replacements for the men they lost. A final surprise assails Marie-Louise when Darling returns accompanied by Roland, as his car broke down. A telephone call from a Mrs Rodriguez stuns Darling until relieved to discover the voice to belong not to Roland’s wife but his mother’s.

Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredy

Barillet showed how a 40-year old woman can be worth her weight in 40-carat gold

Also of comic interest is a woman in her forties worth "Quarante carats" (Forty carats, 1967) by Pierre Barillet (1923-2019) and Jean-Pierre Gredy (1920-2022).

"Forty carats"


Time: 1960s. Place: Greece and Paris, France.

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While on vacation in Greece, Lisa, a 42-year-old head of a real estate agency, has car trouble and no choice but to stay put until the following day at a deserted area near a beach, where she meets William, a 22-year-old student, also on vacation, who offers to cook for them both a scorpion-fish he has just caught and then to indulge in a midnight swim. She accepts. Back in Paris, she unexpectedly meets William at her home, who, unaware of who she is, offered to escort her daughter from a second marriage, Annick, for a night with her friends. Despite their making love in Greece, William and Lisa pretend to meet for the first time. Lisa's mother, Monette, is favorably impressed by the young man, all the more so after learning he is the son of a man who owns a textile factory from her home town. A few days later, William goes over to see Lisa at her place of work for dinner, but she refuses and will have no more to do with him. However, when her mother arrives wet from the rain, he offers to take them home in his car. That same evening with Lisa about to go out to dinner with Eddy, a rich client, Harvey, her first husband and ongoing parasite, arrives unexpectedly. Instead of going out, Eddy proposes that they all eat together right there. The next day, Harvey tells Lisa he approves of her being courted by Eddy. "It is high time you were a bit spoiled," he affirms. "You mean who would spoil both of us," she retorts. She is disappointed when Eddy cancels their date for business reasons and irritated on finding William at her door. William wants to continue their relationship, but, concerned about their age difference, she resists the temptation. Their talk is interrupted by Monette, glad to find her young man there once more, since she is convinced that his outward friendliness towards Lisa is motivated by his desire to court Annick. At cards with him, Monette reveals that she is ready to help him out in his amorous quest. Thinking that she has guessed his pursuit of Lisa, William considers her suggestion of a possible marriage. "One must perhaps ask Lisa what she thinks of it," he suggests. "I think I may tell you that she will greet your proposal very favorably," she answers. That remark surprises him. "You have for you love and money," she continues. "One really asks one's self what could possibly stop you." Alone with Lisa, William asks her to marry him. She declines, but, after he leaves, she reveals his offer of marriage to Monette and Annick. Monette sinks into a chair in woeful disbelief. When Lisa next meets Eddy, it is her turn to be surprised after discovering that he wants to marry her daughter, not her. She hesitates to approve, considering their age difference, 45 and 18. But this presents no problem to Monette, who kisses her granddaughter enthusiastically. Lisa next reveals her marriage proposal to Harvey, who considers it a joke. His negative attitude spurs her to accept the marriage proposal. William's parents approve, especially the mother who enjoys an extramarital relation with her son's college friend. Meanwhile, the aggrieved Monette is powerless to change her daughter's mind. Monette is now too embarrassed even to play bridge with her friends. The irritated Harvey is equally unsuccessful in mocking William. The night before Lisa and William are to depart to Mexico to marry, Harvey tells her he is joining a friend in Africa. "I have no intention of becoming the inseparable friend of your young household," he announces. When the doorbell rings, she is convinced that it is Harvey's young girlfriend from an apartment nearby and, to compromise him, places his cigar much in evidence on the table. Instead it is William who has brought sleeping pills for her. On seeing the cigar, he assumes the worst and leaves abruptly. Unable to face him again, Lisa writes her fiancée a letter to cancel their marriage plans and gives it to Harvey to deliver. Recognizing at last that his ex-wife's happiness is at stake, he keeps the letter so that Lisa and William are once again reconciled.

Jean Poiret

Jean Poiret described comic conflicts arising between homosexual and heterosexual couples, 1965

"La cage aux folles" (The birdcage, 1973) by Jean Poiret (1926-1992) is the best vaudeville play of the 1970s. Poiret also wrote “Happy Easter” (1980) in which Steve, a wealthy businessman, is caught with Julie when his wife, Sophie, unexpectedly shows up on Easter weekend. He is led to introduce Julie as the pregnant daughter of his former wife. To his horror, Sophie sympathizes with Julie to the point of encouraging a marriage plan between her and Frederick, the son of his potential business partner. Things worsen for Steve when Julie’s mother, Marlene, shows up, so that Sophie is ready to relinquish Steve to her and take care of Julie’s supposed baby.

"The birdcage"

Havoc arises when an owner of a homosexual night-club hosts a conservative couple

Time: 1970s. Place: St. Tropez, France.

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Larry asks his father, George, owner of a homosexual night-club, to change his apartment into a more austere one, because he plans to marry a woman whose parents, the Faithingods, have ultra-conservative views and he has invited them over. George asks his friend, Albin, to adapt his behavior to a more virile type, like their butcher's, but he is unable to and is ordered to stay away. When Mr Faithingod arrives, he notices the night-club sign outside and remarks: "Freedom, granted, but freedom with decency." "Absolutely," George hypocritically concurs. At the supper-table, Mrs Faithingod asks about the figurines on their plates: "Are these young men playing together?" she naively asks. George reassures them on this and other matters, but is disagreeably surprised to find Albin entering the room as his wife. The Faithingods are surprised at seeing the soup-bowl in the form of a man's breast while George and Larry, another friend, have a hard time controlling Albin, close to compromising them several times. When a knock on the door is heard and the doorbell rings, George tries to camouflage the sound, but finally his estranged wife, Simone, enters, whom he introduces as the cleaning woman. Although their guests retire for the night, Mr Faithingod, finding his room too hot, comes out again to find Albin appearing as a man, introduced as George's brother-in-law in beach attire. "Was the sea nice?" asks Faithingod. Albin compromisingly responds: "O, like a caress." Mrs Faithingod then comes out for the same reason, at a time when the apartment is invaded by employees from below-stairs, which George explains by announcing he is organizing a masked ball. At last the Faithingods discover the awful truth, but are prevented from leaving when journalists enter to take photographs of the premises. The homosexuals offer the couple some transvestite costumes to escape detection. "I hope the people of France will be thankful to us," Mrs Faithingod painfully remarks as the couple are forced to dance with the rest.

Françoise Dorin

Dorin showed the ups and downs of civic attempts at peace

The Boulevard tradition continued in the 1980s with “L’intoxe” (Intoxication, 1980) by Françoise Dorin (1928-2018).


A radio talk show host undergoes one stressful event after another in a toxic environment

Time: 1980s. Place: Paris, France.

A stressed-out radio talk show host, Marie-Pierre, consults her physician, Dr Vanneau, who heard her boss, Ménard, say at a dinner party that she will be put on a new program with two men instead of working alone as before and at a new time slot, 6 to 8 AM, news that stress her worse than ever. He recommends her to express her emotions rather than bottling them up. Her 17-year old daughter, Sophie, informs her that the phone lines are out and that she may skip class to have her hair curled at a hairdresser for the purpose of mimicking in mockery with 25 other girls the physical appearance of a girl at a party. Her son, Manny, wants to find a costume in imitation of a daisy for an ecological show he is putting on at a café theatre. Next comes her husband, Tony, an unemployed actor who wants her to leave Paris with him to take over his retired brother’s one-star restaurant in the Auvergne region. Balking at the thought of quitting her job, she obtains at best a 24-hour delay to answer the brother’s offer. At this point, Marie-Pierre needs her tranquillizer. However, the medication is in the handbag inside her coat-pocket locked in the closet, whose key is in her car that has been towed away because of her failure to put the breaks on. She now needs to find a public phone to report that she will be late for work, but neither the parking meter attendant nor her cleaning woman, Mercedes, carry any coin and hers is in the locked closet. As she struggles with her emotions, the serene Edward Doucet shows up, owner of the next-door bookstore and president of Aggressions Anonymous, who, overhearing her difficulties, called her radio station at a café on a different phone line subsection of the city to deliver her message. He also called a commissioner friend of his to inform him about her car and offers his own car for her use. Relieved for the moment, Marie-Pierre is yet unsure whether she is ready to join his group whose purpose is to detoxify violent feelings. At the radio station, Marie-Pierre aggressively interviews the author of a bad erotic novel. What especially riles her is that the male author’s name, Pink Candy, is presented to the reading public as a female author, so that, unable to continue, she cuts short the day’s programming. Matters worsen on the way back home when, unable to find in time any change for the meter, she receives a parking ticket and then learns that her couches failed to be delivered because Mercedes was prevented from attending to them by her employer at the time they arrived. At an opportune time, Edward relieves part of her anxieties by helping her tone down her verbal expressions to live in a cocoon and proposes to use him as a sort of bumper from the world’s run-ins, having offered Manny the job of attending to the bookstore while he attends to her needs, a ploy that succeeds during a phone conversation with Pink Candy, irate at discovering part of his interview cut off from air time, and during a conversation with Tony concerning the restaurant offer. Edward goes further. Before the stunned couple, he calls up Tony’s brother to propose a 15-day delay in exchange for a favorable review of his meals by a friend of his, a well-known critic. Likewise, pressure lessens when Edward plays the role of Sophie when her mother learns that she has already slept with four boys, the current one being a gigolo. Edward next employs a counter-example while playing the role of Mercedes, yelling at her employer to demonstrate what to avoid. He next hands over a cheque to Manny to buy audio equipment for his ecological show and another to Marie-Pierre’s mother for a trip to Nice so that she can study in peace to obtain her high school diploma. He also announces that the education board has sent the mother a letter stating that in view of her age she will automatically receive her diploma. On his way out, Edward crosses Dr Vanneau in the midst of a power failure. But yet, to Marie-Pierre’s consternation, the doctor discovers that Edward Doucet is a patient of his, a psychiatric case liable to forge letters and hand over bounced cheques in pathetic attempts to help people out. When Edward returns to admit he must submit once more to Vanneau’s cocoon, Marie-Pierre pretends to Manny that their friend must leave to care for his sister and then retrieves the cheque. Nevertheless, Edward offers genuine help by giving Sophie the keys to his apartment provided she uses it to study. Moreover, two forged letters of his to the radio station were believed to be true: one to her competitor offering him a job at another station and the other to Ménard, supposedly from the minister of the quality of life, so that he offers Marie-Pierre a new program on violence prevention. Another obstacle is lifted when Edward hands over a genuine letter from a childhood friend of his owing him a moral debt, a movie producer set to engage her husband for his next movie role. As a result of all this, Manny’s good humor sets off a cascade of favorable effects throughout the neighborhood, as one kind word triggers others, unfortunately for a brief duration.

Francis Veber

Francis Veber demonstrated how inviting people over to laugh at them becomes hazardous to the host, 2012

"Le dîner de cons" (The dinner game, more precisely Dinner for fools, 1993) is one of the best Boulevard comedy of the 1990s, written by Francis Veber (1937-?).

"Dinner for fools"


Time: 1990s. Place: Paris, France.

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Pierre Brochant, a Parisian publisher, is in the habit of organizing a "fool's dinner" with friends, each inviting a fool they can safely ridicule without his being aware of it. For this purpose, Pierre discovers François Pignon, a government employee with a passion for constructing famous landmarks such as the Eiffel tower with matchsticks. But before Pierre can introduce him for dinner, he hurts his back and asks François to locate his wife, Christine. But to Pierre's despair, François involuntarily reveals to her over the telephone the existence of her husband's mistress, Marlene, and, when Christine arrives, sends her away, mistaking her for Marlene. Juste LeBlanc, Christine's old lover, is solicited to help Pierre, but laughs at him instead. Pierre considers Christine may have gone to find Pascal Meneaux, a reputed philanderer, but he does not know how to contact him. Unfortunately, François tries to help by asking Lucien Cheval, who works at the revenue service and knows about Pascal from his work-file. Before Lucien comes over, Pierre is stunned to learn that the man is an income tax inspector, and so quickly hides valuable paintings and decorations the government knows nothing about. While calling up Pascal from Pierre's apartment, Lucien discovers that his wife is at the philanderers apartment, and is so chagrined and angry that he leaves at once, threatening Pierre of an in-depth audit on his earnings. At last, François discovers the hidden purpose behind Pierre's dinner. Despite his hurt feelings, he calls up Christine in secret to help Pierre out, pretending that he is calling from a phone booth to avoid her thinking that his friend put him up to it. But he blunders yet again by answering the phone in her husband's apartment, so that husband and wife are more estranged than ever before, to Pierre's despair at ever inviting such a fool to a fool's dinner.