Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Week-end a Zuydcoote (1964)

U.S. One Sheet Poster - Style A

Week-end a Zuydcoote, ably directed by Henri Verneuil, is a French film starring Jean-Paul Belmondo as Julien Maillat, a French soldier who is trying to find his way out of France in the chaos near Dunkirk as the German army closes in on the allied troops there.  It is based on a 1949 French book by Robert Merle.  The story follows Julien as he tries to escape by way of British soldiers boarding whatever craft are available and as he tries to survive with a group of friends.  The story is at times anti-war, humorous, dramatic, and sad.  Catherine plays the part of Jeanne, a local girl, who Julien meets along the way and ultimately agrees to marry.  Jeanne is trying to remain in her family home, in the belief that remaining in the home will somehow save it from the ravages of the war being waged around it.  At one point, Julien saves her from two French soldiers that are about to rape her.  Ultimately, she offers herself to Julien as a reward and as a way to entice him to stay and protect her.  The final scene is quite poignant and will stay with you for a while.

This is very much a Belmondo movie, even though Catherine's star power was also used as a draw in the advertising of the movie.  Catherine probably has less than 30 minutes of screen time in this 118-minute film (and only about 15 seconds in the first 53 minutes of the film), so if your only interest in this film revolves around Catherine, then you may be disappointed.

Catherine enjoyed working with Belmondo.  In her 1966 interview with Rex Reed, she commented on Belmondo, stating that he was "A good chum.  Always playing jokes on me.  In Europe he and Marcello and Sophia and Bardot are the only stars.  The others are all minor.  I've only been in America for two weeks and I miss them all."

I would not rank this as a classic Spaak film, nor as a classic film overall, but it is a solid, above-average movie that is worth watching. I was impressed by the fact that a significant amount of care and money was invested in the project.  The color cinematography is good, often using sweeping, panoramic views in which we can see great distances behind the focus of the scene.  Thousands of extras and hundreds of pieces of equipment were used.  In many scenes, as far as the eye can see, soldiers and equipment are moving in the background, and buildings are often burning.  It is quite impressive and helps to bring to life the scene of clutter and chaos as tens of thousands of troops are trying to flee the advancing German army and escape across the English Channel.  The area is consistently being shelled by German artillery and strafed by German aircraft, but there are no big battles where armies and armor are clashing.  The film reminds me of how much I dislike the current state of American films with CGI effects.

As for Catherine, she gives a solid acting performance in her rather limited role.  I thought that she handled the attempted-rape scene well and did a good job of conveying the sense of a young woman that is somewhat in shock by the war that is transpiring around her.  Her hair is very blonde for this film, and in her final scenes, she is stunning in a red dress. 

During shooting in the late summer and fall of 1964, the crew spent ten weeks filming location scenes on the peninsula where the Dunkirk evacuation took place.  Residents of the area, including the nearby resort town of Zuydcoote, cooperated with the director by remaining off of the streets for hours at a time.  5,000 French soldiers were provided for filming by the French government and 200 tanks of French and British design were used, as well as more than 100 ships of all kinds, half-tracks, landing craft, guns, and thousands of weapons.

Much of the press material for the film revolves around Belmondo, discussing his career, his popularity, and his family.  Director Verneuil was quoted as saying that he was attracted by the story's anti-heroic aspects and that he "wanted to show the futility and absurdity of war."

Although it sounds to me like studio-contrived quotes, Catherine was quoted in press material as stating: "What a pleasure to appear in the female lead opposite Jean-Paul Belmondo in a picture about one of the major historical events of this century.  What I like most about this picture is that it's about something important, about the reactions of genuine human beings in an utterly desperate situation.  There aren't a lot of neurotics suffering with their petty narcissistic problems in 'Weekend at Dunkirk.' The men and women portrayed in the picture are concerned with simply staying alive and keeping their heads in an atmosphere of complete chaos.  Also, you know, the story is taken from the novel by Robert Merle which won France's highest award, the Prix Goncourt.  This is probably the most exciting picture on which I've ever worked.  Producers Robert and Raymond Hakim have 5,000 French soldiers out here, plus hundreds of tanks and other kinds of vehicles used during the war.  They've hired some of the top actors in France:  Georges Geret, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Pierre Mondy and Francois Perier.  And, of course, I play most of my scenes with Jean-Paul Belmondo.  He's wonderful, just a wonderful, charming man.  He's the kind of masculine type you expect some day to go off and try to climb Mt. Everest, or try to cross the Atlantic in a little sailboat.  He's completely devoted to his family, too, and that I think is another characteristic of a real man.  He is very polite to me and very helpful, traits which are sometimes lacking in top stars."
The film was released in France on December 18, 1964, where it appears to have performed well.  Reporting in Variety on June 16, 1965 indicated that the film made back most of its hefty production costs from a sale to 20th-Century Fox for distribution in the U.S. and Canada.

Here is the French trailer:

As Weekend at Dunkirk, distributed by 20th-Century Fox in an English-dubbed version, the film premiered in the U.S. in New York City on May 18, 1966. It likely played in multiple theaters that week, but it was definitely showing at the New Amsterdam Theatre.

The New Amsterdam Theatre, a Broadway Theatre on 42nd Street, was built in 1903. In the late 1930's it was converted and used as a movie theater until the mid-1980's.  After neglect in the 1980's, it was renovated and re-opened in 1997 and is still open for shows.  Although it's a bit blurry, here is a picture of the marquee in the 1960's from
If you are interested in learning more about this theater, check out this link:  New Amsterdam Theatre

The New York Times' Eliot Fremont-Smith reviewed the film quite harshly on May 19, 1966, noting in part that it was "one of the dullest, most synthetic war movie[s] in years, unveiled yesterday on circuits by 20th Century-Fox."  It went on:  "The incredible thing about this French-made color drama, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and now dubbed into English, is not its resounding thud but the fact that the picture was a sensation a while back on French screens, both critically and financially.  The French ate it up.  In any case the Americans handed it right back yesterday-at least at the New Amsterdam Theater, where a burly audience hissed the limp fade-out, as the pouting Catherine Spaak, lugging a suitcase, ambles toward the waiting Mr. Belmondo, only to have him flop over like a dead mackeral.... The picture, moving at a snail's pace, finally makes its real point.  Mr. Belmondo's just got to get involved with the last blonde, left in Dunkirk, who happens to be Miss Spaak, also one of the best-looking babes in France."  

Variety first reviewed the film from Paris in the December 30, 1964 edition, calling it a "solidly made and well-produced tale of the evacuation of Dunkirk...[that] looks to do fine biz here, with good playoff possibilities stateside and worth dubbing rather than playing in arty houses."  It further noted that "20th-Fox already has this for the U.S. and Canada and should have a fine playoff item.  The name of Jean-Paul Belmondo, who scored in 'That Man From Rio,' is an added asset.  Catherine Spaak is somewhat gauche as the hard-headed girl but is good to look at.  But in this impressive production, the good overall acting makes it one of the four local pix with top export chances."

The March 28, 1966 Boxoffice review notes that Catherine is "well established as a leading office attraction in Europe" and that the film "is a thoughtful picture whose entertainment value is more intellectual than action-caused, though there is plenty of action of the war-induced kind."
Time reviewed the film in its June 3, 1966 edition, noting "This random, well-photographed essay on the futility of war will prove a letdown to audiences lured by the marquee pull of Jean-Paul Belmondo.  As a French soldier sweating through the British evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, Belmondo braves German bullets, saves Catherine Spaak from rape, and growls defiance in a flat Yankee accent.  Seems he had been dubbed as well as drubbed, and any nuances that his gravelly, one-of-a-kind voice might have lent to the performance are effectively erased.  With only one ace in the whole, the distributors of Dunkirk might have been wiser to let him speak in his own defense."

The film does not appear to have performed well in the U.S.  The June 13, 1966 Boxoffice indicated that the film was drawing mostly below-average crowds in five cities.  The June 20 edition reported similar results in six cities, although the film scored well in Portland. The June 1, 1966 Variety reported that the film had a "disappointing opening session in several key [cities]."  Variety also reported mild returns for showings in December 1966.  Variety did, however, report a strong debut for the film at "eight sites including two drive-ins" in September 1966.  Apparently, 20th-Century Fox continued pushing the film out into 1967, as Variety reported on May 3, 1967 that the film was doing well in Chicago as part of a double-feature with Rapture.  I have not seen any information to know whether or not 20th-Century Fox ultimately made money on its deal.

In 1968, a deal was cut to push the film into the U.S. television market.  The June 26, 1968 Variety reported that Weekend at Dunkirk was part of a 23-picture deal between 20th-Century Fox and ABC, wherein ABC would be able to air the movie twice.

Weekend at Dunkirk has never received a DVD release (nor, as far as I can tell, a VHS release) in the U.S., although it has been released on DVD in Europe, Australia, and South Korea.

Here is the cover of the U.S. pressbook:

Promotional material in the U.S. included a billboard poster, a six sheet poster, a three sheet poster, two one sheet posters (Style A and Style B), a half sheet poster, an insert poster, a window card, a set of 12 color 8x10 stills, a set of 8 lobby cards, and 8x10 black and white stills.  Even satin streamers, flags, and wall banners were available to theater owners.  All of the material contains an NSS stamp number beginning with "65," which I believe indicates that the film was slated for a 1965 release.  20th-Century Fox acquired the distribution rights in January 1965 (as reported in Variety at the time), so perhaps the original plan was to release it before the end of the year.  For some reason, the release must have been postponed to 1966.

The Style A one sheet poster is shown at the top of this post.

Style B one sheet poster (from the archives at

Three sheet poster (from the archives at

The half sheet, insert and window card posters:

The U.S. lobby card set:

Here is the set of twelve color 8x10's:

Black and white stills:

Color publicity photo:
On July 12, 1971 in the U.S., Weekend at Dunkirk was the ABC Monday Night Movie airing in prime time.  Here is a TV still associated with that broadcast (along with the network information that accompanied the photo):

A paperback book tie-in:

A soundtrack album:

Danish poster (from the archives at

French poster (from the archives at

Italian posters:

Here are a couple of odd Italian posters with a different title (that translates to "Beach on Fire):

British poster (from the archives at

Spanish poster:

Polish poster (from the archives at

German poster, pressbook, and color stills:

Argentinian poster:

Romanian poster:

Yugoslavian poster:

Japanese magazine clipping:

Magazine Photos:

No comments:

Post a Comment