"The movie takes the superficial form of a country house farce, at which wives and husbands, lovers and adulterers, masters and servants, sneak down hallways, pop up in each other's bedrooms and pretend that they are all proper representatives of a well-ordered society. Robert Altman, who once said "I learned the rules of the game from 'The Rules of the Game,'" was not a million miles off from this plot with his "Gosford Park" -- right down to the murder. But there is a subterranean level in Renoir's film that was risky and relevant when it was made and released in 1939. It was clear that Europe was going to war. In France, left-wing Popular Front members like Renoir were clashing with Nazi sympathizers. Renoir's portrait of the French ruling class shows them as silly adulterous twits, with the working classes emulating them within their more limited means. His film opens with a great national hero, the aviator Andre Jurieu, completing a heroic trans-Atlantic solo flight (only 10 years after Lindbergh) and then whining on the radio because the woman he loves did not come to the airport to meet him. Worse, the characters in the movie who do try to play by the rules are a Jewish aristocrat, a cuckolded gamekeeper, and the embarrassing aviator. This did not go over well with French audiences on the eve of war. The film is preceded by a little introduction by jolly, plump Renoir, looking like an elderly version of the cherub so often painted by his father Auguste. He recalls that a man set fire to his newspaper at the movie's premiere, trying to burn the theater down. Audiences streamed out, the reviews were savage, and the film was a disaster, even before it was banned by the occupying Nazis. The French like to be funny, but they do not much like to be made fun of. "We were dancing on a volcano," Renoir says."
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"The Rules of the Game provoked something like a riot at its Parisian premiere. Never mind that the anti-Semitic and xenophobic press had a field day with Dalio's Jewishness and Gregor's thick Austrian accent. "People who commit suicide do not care to do it in front of witnesses," Renoir said of the French response to his film, which, beneath its frothy veneer, showed their society going down the drain. The film was cut twice, and its original negative was destroyed by Allied bombing. The occasion for this re-release is its complete restoration from a master print. It is required viewing, if only to understand the ideal that filmmakers from Robert Altman to Woody Allen have been after. And even if you think you know it, see it again for its newly rediscovered depth of field, and even more, for its infinite wellsprings of character and empathy."
"Exactly what Jean Renoir had in mind when he wrote, performed in, and directed The Rules of the Game, Saturday's French import at the Fifth Avenue Playhouse, is anybody's guess. This is the same M. Renoir, if you please, who gave us those notable imports, Grand Illusion and The Human Beast, not to mention The Southerner, from Hollywood. The new arrival, however, is really one for the buzzards. Here we have a baffling mixture of stale sophistication, coy symbolism, and galloping slapstick that almost defies analysis. The distributors claim that the picture, made shortly before the war, was banned by the Occupation on grounds of immorality. Rest assured it wasn't immortality. And there's nothing particularly sizzling in this account of some addle-headed lounge lizards tangling up their amours on a weekend house party in the country. One minute they're making sleek Noël Coward talk about art and free love, the next they're behaving like a Li'l Abner family reunion, chasing each other from pantry to boudoir to the din of wrecked furniture, yelling, and random gunfire. One carefully picturesque sequence, a rabbit hunt, may or may not be fraught with Renoir meaning, but the grand finale, in which everybody down to the cook joins in a hysterical conquest race, would shame the Keystone Kops. In the juicy role of a family friend, M. Renoir acts as though it were his last day on earth. The other principals, Dalio, Nora Gregor, and Mila Parély, are right behind him. The picture ends abruptly with an unaccountable murder, whereupon one of the philanderers murmurs that the victim didn't learn the rules of the game. If the game is supposed to be life, love, or hide-and-seek, which makes more sense, it's M. Renoir's own secret. At any rate, the master has dealt his admirers a pointless, thudding punch below the belt. Twenty-two years after The Rules of the Game was made, and eleven years after a mutilated print was exhibited here, the full version of Jean Renoir's study of the manners and mores of prewar France opened yesterday at the Eighth Street Playhouse and completely justifies its European reputation."