The rich, amoral Zelie is married to Pierre Boucheron, "The Rat" - but her interest in another man is an open secret. Forced to defend his honour, the Rat takes refuge in his old domain of ...
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The rich, amoral Zelie is married to Pierre Boucheron, "The Rat" - but her interest in another man is an open secret. Forced to defend his honour, the Rat takes refuge in his old domain of the Paris underworld. But even here he has a rival - and when murder is afoot, the sinister Morel's ambition threatens to cost the Rat dear.... Written by
Return of the usual suspects in disappointing end to trilogy
Sadly, I enjoyed "The Return of the Rat" the least of the 'Rat' trilogy. Sadly: not only because endings are the most important part of any work, but because there appears to have been an effort made to recognise what was most successful in the first two films and combine them here. Thus we see the return of such elements as our hero actually losing a fight where the odds are heavily against him, the selfless love of a poor girl pitted against the whims of a rich woman, Boucheron's authority under threat from an underworld rival, and the Rat as leader in a nefarious enterprise. We also see a return to a greater use of humour, after the oppressively downcast second film of the series.
Unfortunately, what the writers don't seem to have realised is that raising admiring laughs at the hero's effrontery is not quite the same thing as introducing a couple of comic-relief Cockney characters. The intent was laudable... the execution is crude in the extreme.
My main objection is that the bluff boxer and his jockey-sized manager appear to have no connection with the main section of the plot at all. Their part could quite easily have been spliced into the script after all the major scenes had been shot, in order to extend the running-time at the last minute. I doubt the process was quite as crude as that - but one does get the impression that somebody decreed "This film needs to be funnier!" and shoe-horned them in.
Leaving aside the unfortunate Bill and Alf, however, I felt that the film had more serious problems. It may be petty of me, but I found the continuity gap between this picture and its predecessor even greater than that between the first and second in the series. The second film essentially ends on a cliff-hanger. "Return of the Rat" not only completely ignores this - frustratingly, we never do find out what happened next - but depicts Boucheron in its opening scenes as being respectably married to the selfish and capricious Zelie. Not only is this pretty much inexplicable, but it totally undermines one of the few 'triumphs' the Rat is allowed to achieve at the end of the previous film!
After all the events of the last two instalments, to meet these two characters again without explanation as a married couple of long standing is almost incredible. It's not - entirely - impossible. But a Rat who went crawling back to accept his conniving mistress' charity, and then allowed himself to be duped into marrying her, scarcely cuts an admirable or heroic figure. Particularly since the lady has since been quite flagrantly unfaithful.
It is with this unedifying domestic spectacle that the third film begins, as a hen-pecked Boucheron nags at his wife to stop gambling, and she flirts openly with a wealthy nobleman who bears all the hallmarks of her previous 'protectors'. It's interesting that the recurring female character in these films - arguably their heroine - is depicted both as more powerful than the men and as morally unscruplous: but the cumulative effect is to make the hero appear weak in contrast. Any man fool enough to *marry* Zelie is going to find himself led by the nose; and this is just what happens.
It's not surprising, therefore, that the other half of the Rat's life beckons, and he is tempted by his old haunts in the White Coffin Club. It is unfortunate, however, for anyone who has seen the first film, that the clip chosen to illustrate his previous life comes from the scene where he is retrieving his knife thanks to his true-love Odile - who has since been effectively erased from history. Jarring, to say the least. The role of poor-but-honest love interest is taken in this film by the barmaid Lisette, in a part that comes across as little more than a debased carbon copy of that of Odile. At least, in a perfunctory nod to continuity, this time we do learn the fate of 'Mou-Mou'...
The first we really see of the mockery and daring of the old Rat comes in his confrontation with Morel, the ruffian who has been lording it at the White Coffin Club in Boucheron's absence. The scenes in which he baffles Morel, and later reasserts his command of his erstwhile henchmen and leads them out in a scheme to humiliate Zelie, and take his revenge on her paramour, are among the most satisfactory in the film. However, the climax - in which he is hunted through the streets while Lisette offers to sacrifice herself to Morel - is a pale clone of the first film that does not even work nearly so well; the barmaid Lisette, shrinking at the last minute from the man she has been leading on, arouses rather less sympathy than the innocent Odile fighting off a predatory intruder.
But, far worse, the crucial fingerprint clue makes no sense at all. I actually can't help wondering if the stage-directions in the script were somehow misinterpreted during filming, and that the print was intended to have been found on the *knife* - the only explanation that seems to fit the facts.
As I said, endings are important. The first film had a cracker of a weepie. The second film trails off basically unresolved. But the climax of this third managed to confuse and annoy me simultaneously - which, coupled with unsubtle comic relief, a retread romantic subplot that was hard to take seriously, and a hero for the most part in the shadow of past glories, was decidedly unsatisfactory.
The only real virtue of this film lay in making me feel more kindly towards its predecessor, "Triumph of the Rat", which I had previously been prepared to dismiss - it at least had the courage to be original. This one, which could have marked a successful return to formula, comes across instead as simply formulaic.
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