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With: Paulette Goddard, Burgess Meredith, Hurd Hatfield, Francis Lederer, Judith Anderson, Florence Bates, Irene Ryan, Reginald Owen, Almira Sessions
Written by: Burgess Meredith, based on the play by Andrˇ Heuzˇ, Andrˇ de Lorde, Thielly Nor¸s, and on the novel by Octave Mirbeau
Directed by: Jean Renoir
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 86
Date: 15/02/1946

Diary of a Chambermaid (1946)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Self Maid

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Many filmmakers have adapted the novel Diary of a Chambermaid by Octave Mirbeau -- notably Luis Bunuel in 1964 -- but Jean Renoir's 1946 Hollywood production is the only one that's based on a stage adaptation of the book. I'm not sure if that's a factor or not, but it may be one reason why Renoir's version seems so idealistic, rather than emotional or romantic. Or maybe it's that this story has never really appealed to me (I didn't like Bunuel's version either).

Paulette Goddard stars as Célestine, a new chambermaid in the Lanlaire home. Upon her arrival, she saves another maid from being mistreated by the sour valet, Joseph (Francis Lederer). She vows that, from now on, she's going to think only of herself, which entails finding a rich husband. The sickly Lanlaire son, Georges (Hurd Hatfield) is one possible candidate, and the flower-eating neighbor Captain Mauger (Burgess Meredith) is another. But when Joseph involves her in a scheme to steal the family's silver, it looks like he will blackmail her into marrying him.

Renoir's visuals are sensual and decorative, but somehow he doesn't seem to get inside this material. Some critics have pointed out that he could have been more concerned with drawing parallels to the politics of his homeland of France than with finding an emotional center. Devotees of Renoir will find it fascinating, however. Meredith -- who was married to Goddard at the time -- adapted the screenplay. Olive Films released the DVD and Blu-ray in 2013.

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