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Dapper Inspector Vorobechik ('Wens' for short) is assigned the case of a serial killer who leaves a calling card on his victims; Monsieur Durand. Wens' mistress, struggling actress Mila Malou, determines to get publicity for herself by helping him. Learning that Durand is one of the eccentric tenants of a boarding house at No. 21 Avenue Junot, Wens takes a room in the guise of a Protestant minister; only to be followed by Mila who hardly seems like a minister's wife! Suspects are arrested, but while each is in jail, there's another murder... Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
This was Clouzot's directing debut, having graduated from being a screenwriter feeling that his script for Le dernier des six was implemented by Georges Lacombe to the letter, and yet not being satisfied with the result. It's a murder mystery based on a novel by the same author behind Le dernier des six, Clouzot adds comic touches which act as kindling to set the fire alight.
Stylistically they're very different, and yet it feels like Paul Verhoeven and Henri-Georges Clouzot were cut from the same philosophical cloth. It seems under-remarked upon that L'assassin habite a 21 is a pretty anti-clerical movie, there's blasphemous jokes about the celibacy of Catholic priests and the Holy Trinity. You also get the feeling, from this movie made under the Occupation, that this is a "Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right" kind of movie, where the French characters are shown with acid misanthropy, but also, that the allusions to the Nazis, really trivialise them, in the manner of Lubitsch. The final scene of the movie contains a quite hilarious snub of the Nazis that is brazen but too droll for any Nazi to catch.
Clouzot worked for Continental-Films, which was controlled by the Nazis, its chief Alfred Greven reporting directly to Max Winkler the Reichsbeauftragter (Reich Commissioner) for German films. Clouzot attended parties with Greven and his mistresses, with his own mistress Suzy Delair (Mina Milou, the female lead of this movie). I get this feeling like with some of Verhoeven's characters in Black Book, that they were riding the tiger's back, trying to survive and enjoy themselves in a world of mad people. There's a feeling when a character dies that it's a Darwinian incident, that you're an idiot if you flash money around and wander the streets at night when there is a spate of robbery homicides going on in your district.
There's a swagger to the direction of this film, a boastful assuredness that I found really refreshing. There is also a balance to the characteristic misanthropy of Clouzot's film, an offsetting humour. I think Clouzot belongs up there with Nabokov and Verhoeven as supremely competent individuals laughing in the dark. L'assassin habite a 21 was quite the guilty pleasure for me!
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