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Film / The Story of a Cheat

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The Story of a Cheat (aka Confessions of a Cheat) (Le Roman d'un tricheur) is a 1936 comedy directed by and starring Sacha Guitry.

The unnamed "Cheat", played by Guitry, is 54 years old, and is writing his memoir. The film plays out in a series of flashbacks as the Cheat remembers his life. At the age of 12 a bizarre accident led to the deaths of everyone in his family but him. After a slimeball uncle takes custody of the boy and steals his inheritance, the Cheat sets out on his own, getting a job as a hotel bellhop. As he ages into adulthood the Cheat has a series of wild adventures. He gets dragged into a plot to assassinate Tsar Nicholas II. He's deflowered by a woman 20 years older than he is. He serves in World War I, barely escaping death in August 1914. He's roped into crime by a mysterious blonde who enlists his help in stealing some jewelry. He becomes a croupier, but a sultry brunette thinks he can rig the roulette wheel. Finally he becomes a card sharp, but more wacky adventures ensue.

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  • An Arm and a Leg: The Cheat's fellow soldier Charbonnier saves his life on the battlefield in August 1914, but loses his own arm in the process. Meeting Charbonnier 20-odd years later and remembering his friend's heroism is what leads the Cheat to go straight.
  • Bathtub Scene: The jewel thief is taking a bath as she first suggests to the Cheat the prospect of stealing an expensive ring.
  • Black Comedy: As a boy the Cheat has a family of 12—parents, grandparents, an uncle, a horde of brothers and sisters, all living in the same house. All of them die when they eat poisonous mushrooms at dinner. As his whole family croaks and the young Cheat stares in astonishment, the adult Cheat notes in narration that you can mourn for one person or a couple of people but you can't mourn for eleven people because you don't know where to start.
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  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Mixed with Really Gets Around. The Cheat waxes nostalgic about his teenaged affair with the Countess, and how she gave him a gold pocket watch at their parting. When they meet again nearly 40 years later, the Countess, who naturally doesn't recognize him, says that she did that all the time, giving away precisely 217 gold watches. The horrified Cheat then dumps his watch, which he's kept all those decades, into her purse when her back is turned.
  • Card Sharp: Eventually the Cheat teaches himself to become this, hence the movie's title, and makes a lot of money. He explains several of the tricks he uses to cheat at cards, one of which involves placing a shiny cigarette case at a strategic spot on the table, so he can see what the cards are as he deals by spotting their reflection on the case.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Several.
    • The Cheat just happens to run into his lover from decades before, the Countess, while he's in a cafe telling stories about her.
    • Later at a casino he meets his ex-girlfriend the jewel thief and his ex-wife Henriete, and they're playing cards together, no less.
    • Finally he meets his old war buddy Charbonnier at a different casino a good 20 years or so after they last met.
  • Could Say It, But...: The Cheat is working at a restaurant as a young man when his friend, an expat Russian anarchist, ropes him into a plot to assassinate a visiting Tsar Nicholas II. The Cheat is very happy when the plot is exposed by an anonymous letter to the police and his friend the anarchist is arrested.
    Cheat: It's bad to admit writing a letter with one's left hand, and I'm not admitting it.
  • Framing Device: The Cheat composing his memoir, and in the process entertaining the staff at the cafe with stories of his life.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The Cheat is a teenaged bellhop in Monaco. He says "It was in Monaco that I had my first—how shall I put it? No need to spell it out."
  • High-Class Glass: Part of the Cheat's disguise when he meets the jewel thief and Henriette; it helps to stop them from recognizing him.
  • Life Saving Misfortune: As a boy, the Cheat steals a few francs from the cash register of the family bakery to buy marbles. He gets caught, and as a punishment is not allowed any of the gourmet mushrooms the family is having for dinner. The mushrooms are poisonous, and everyone in the family except for him dies.
  • Master of Disguise: A necessary skill for being a card sharp, as the Cheat demonstrates in a montage where continually enters and exits a door in a series of disguises that wildly change his appearance. When he meets up with his ex-wife and ex-girlfriend, neither recognizes him.
  • Mrs. Robinson: The Countess, who is at least 20 years older than the teenaged Cheat but doesn't let that stop her from taking his virginity.
  • Picaresque: The drolly comic adventures of a charming rascal.
  • Sexless Marriage: The roulette-playing woman that the Cheat marries makes clear that theirs is a marriage of convenience. When it finally becomes clear that they are not able to somehow psychically manipulate the roulette ball, they divorce.
  • Time Passes Montage: When the Cheat is basically forgotten about in a French military hospital, a montage shows him reading books and growing a beard, eventually having a long bushy beard as a pile of books forms at his desk. This is where Sacha Guitry is introduced as the mature Cheat.
  • Video Credits: A most unusual opening credits sequence, in which there actually aren't any "credits". Instead Sacha Guitry, out of character, walks around the film set introducing everyone else in the crew—the camera man, the sound recorder in his booth, the caterer, and all the actors.
  • Visual Title Drop: The Cheat writes "Le Roman d'un tricheur" in his composition book as the title of his memoir.
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