Balzac's 1835 novel was allegedly the first, but not the last, to use a boarding house setting to present a cross section of humanity. This crowded canvas is made more intricate for the adaptor by several characters whose histories were developed in later Balzac tales. In the event scriptwriter Charles Spaak opts to focus on Rastignac, gauche young man on the make at the start, disillusioned opportunist at the end. His rough handling by jovial corrupter Vautrin and by the two poisonous daughters of Old Goriot are the substance of the film. Sometimes the staging seems rather flat, while other sequences are startlingly good, a discrepancy explained by the film's date. But it's further confirmation, along with Fantômas contre Fantômas, that Vernay deserves better than the obscurity into which he's fallen. The acting is uneven, ranging from mesmerising (Renoir) to amateurish (Larquey).
Cast and crew
Charles Spaak, Bernard Zimmer