Friday, September 07, 2007

The Crime of Monsieur Lange

The Crime of Monsieur Lange

This 1936 film, directed by Jean Renoir, is a droll comedy/mystery about the unscrupulous boss of a book and magazine publishing company in France who abuses his employees and seduces the women who work there. It reminds me of Southfarm Press, my book publishing company.

Just kidding.

In the film, when the publisher disappears and is presumed dead, the employees of the firm take it over and run it as a collective. At the same time, the company finds publishing success with one of its employees (Lange), a writer of a successful series of pulp-westerns for the firm. Then the boss shows up again after he learns of the firm's publishing success and expects to reassume his dictatorial powers.

The publisher turns up dead for real this time and Lange, now wanted for murder, hotfoots it to the Belgian border with his girl friend. The end.

Southfarm Press has now been in business for almost 25 years. Our 25th anniversary is in March 2008. While its publisher hasn't been murdered (I'm still alive) and all employees over the years can be accounted for, we have had our battles.

We've fought distributors, authors, reviewers and a lot of people who make their living off small publishers as advisors. One time a reviewer asked us if we had administered a lie detector test to one of our authors. General laughter in the office. Oh yeah, Random House does that, right? Another time, when an author's book wasn't selling well, he accused us of secretly reprinting it so we could sell those copies on the quiet and deny him his royalties. As soon as the first print run was sold out, we put the book out-of-print, gave him back his rights, and told him to get lost.

Another time, way back in the eighties, we were considering working with an author to publish his cookbook. Things were going swimmingly until we discovered an anti-Jewish tirade in the middle of the book. It was a cook book, for God's sake! We dropped him like a hot potato.

Also, back in the eighties, our distributor at the time was bragging about this huge order for a Vietnam War book he had sold for another publisher. I asked him if he had showed our Vietnam War book at the same time to that buyer. It got very quiet. We got the hell out of there.

In the early nineties, a prominent history professor, reviewing one of our titles by a veteran of World War II for a respected journal, told me on the phone that all veterans were liars! I responded by giving him a list of academics who had been caught telling untruths, like Joseph Ellis. That shut him up.

So it has been an interesting 25 years. It's about time I watched The Crime of Monsieur Lange again. It really is funny and the actors in it are appealing. It's only 77 minutes long and always entertains me. --Walter Haan, www.war-books.com

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