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Oslo, April 19th 1945, as the Third Reich is living its last days, a group of Nazis and sympathizers (a Wehrmacht general; an SS commander and his "assistant"; an Italian industrialist and his wife who is also the general's lover; a French collaborator) board a submarine that will take them to South America, where they hope to find refuge. While they sail in the Bay of Biscay, off the shores of the liberated French port of Royan, they manage to kidnap a French doctor to have him look after a wounded passenger. Dr Gilbert will be forced to share the restricted space of the submarine with the fugitives. The atmosphere soon becomes unbreathable... Written by
Among all René Clément 's movies dealing with WW2 ("jeux interdits" "la père tranquille" "Paris brûle-t-il?" ...) "les maudits" is simply the best.It might possibly be also Clement's best and I hope many comments will join mine soon.
Nazis are escaping from Germany in 1945 now that the writing's on the wall.They will cross the sea in a submarine and take refuge in South America .Among them ,a general , a manufacturer and his wife (who's the general's lover),a scientist and his daughter,a French collaborator,a "Dritte Reich " die-hard and his minion .The woman is injured and they have no doctor.So,in Royan,they kidnap Guilbert who will be forced to share their desperate odyssey.
Never maybe René Clément's direction has been so impressive:he uses with stunning results the enclosed atmosphere ,where the characters are prisoners:the audience like them is panting for breath.When the doctor enters the place ,the cinematography suggests a descent into hell.
This submarine is really Hell's anteroom.Heightened sensibilities ,suppressed hatred,and reciprocal contempt show because of an unbearable lack of privacy .Guilbert ,the doctor (Vidal) understands that ,because he's not one of "them" ,his days are numbered ,and he's got to play cat and mouse to survive.So strong is the supporting cast that they overshadow the hero (Henri Vidal was a limited actor though).The strange homosexual couple ,Himmler's former henchman (Jo Dest) and his lover (Michel Auclair who gives the most fascinating performance of the whole movie;René Clément met him when he filmed "la Belle et le Bete" with Cocteau ,Auclair played la Belle's brother)are much more than secondary characters.It even includes SM (the nazi whips his minion).
When we leave the submarine-coffin,all we find is the dark waters of an empty sea.And when we call at a harbor in South Africa,we find ourselves in Marcel Dalio's (who was part of "Casablanca" supporting cast!)office,the Venitian blinds of which are carefully lowered;or -in a scene so strong that it rivals the best of Hitchcock-,in the darkness of a coffee warehouse.
This is a must-see movie,which was also remarkable for another reason:everyone speaks his language ,which was not that much obvious at the time,and it adds another suspenseful plus:the hero must not show he understands German.
Henri Jeanson whose sense of humor is intact despite this thoroughly desperate noir story wrote astounding lines:"it looks like Noah's Ark,says the general at the beginning of the film,now all we need is the deluge".
He will not be disappointed.You will not either if you try this Clément overlooked gem.
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