Film clips of guitarist Django Reinhardt aren’t exactly rare, but they are few. Thanks to his growing popularity in the early Fifties, we have film documents from the period that demonstrate his nimble and dextrous finger work.
The video shown below is one such example. It comes from a 1953 French-Italian comedy known as La Route du Bonheur, in French, and Saluti e Baci, in Italian. The film’s plot, nearest we can tell, centers on a radio announcer who loses his hearing. When his replacement puts out a call for tributes on behalf of the stricken man, people flock to help, including numerous musical stars of the day like trumpeter Louis Armstrong, jazz sax and clarinet player Sidney Bechet, French singer Juliette Gréco, and Reinhardt.
In this scene, Reinhardt and his band perform in a train car full of Gypsies. The scene is replete with embarrassing stereotypes—the Gypsies steal a man’s watch and are sexually provocative—and one can only wonder how Django, a Romani Gypsy, felt about the depiction.
Although the performance is mimed—the song “Nuits de St. Germain des Pres” is dubbed over it— the film provides excellent shots of Reinhardt’s fretting hand in action. Enjoy.