Hollywood's Cote d'Azur: Playboys, Thieves and Racing Cars



Johnston C (2011) Hollywood's Cote d'Azur: Playboys, Thieves and Racing Cars. Nottingham French Studies, 50 (1), pp. 72-82.

The choice of Paris as physical backdrop in popular Hollywood cinema provides film-makers and audiences alike with an instantly recognisable cultural marker, evoking a series of historical, literary, and artistic references. However, despite 'Hollwyood's love affair with the French capital' , there exists a significant parallel strand of popular American movies set on the Côte d'Azur in which, on the surface, 'Frenchness' is equated with a lifestyle of playboys, gentlemen thieves, and fast cars. This article will begin with an overview of the evolution of such films from the 1950s (Preminger's Bonjour Tristesse, for instance, and Hitchcock's To Catch A Thief) to the present day and the success of films including Frankenheimer's Ronin and Neil Jordan's The Good Thief, encompassing genres as diverse as the crime thriller and the family comedy. The article will demonstrate the ways in which a specific transatlantic identity is constructed through the onscreen depictions offered by these works, drawing on the "safe" cultural stereotypes of "Frenchness" described briefly above and harking back nostalgically to a Riviera of rogues and aristocrats, while also, over the decades, becoming more complex and hinting at a darker social undercurrent. Through close analysis of characters and settings used in a small corpus of key Riviera films, the article will illustrate the ways in which the physical backdrop of the Côte d'Azur - whether factual, mythologised, or a combination of the two - has influenced impressions of French national identity in the American popular imagination, and the ways in which this depiction of a specific regional identity might be said to challenge the transatlantic cinematic dominance of Paris.

French cinema; transatlantic; Motion pictures France History

Nottingham French Studies: Volume 50, Issue 1

Publication date31/03/2011
PublisherEdinburgh University Press

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Dr Cristina Johnston

Dr Cristina Johnston

Senior Lecturer, French