|Index||10 reviews in total|
From the director of the superb 'Wages of Fear,' 'Les Diaboliques,' 'Le
Corbeau/the Raven' and 'Quai des Orfevres,' this is definitely
something of a disappointment, albeit certainly a fascinating one.
Entertaining and interesting, yes, but more Clouseau than Clouzot,
after a good start it turns into a remarkably broad and at times
joyously unsubtle parody of espionage and political ideology set in a
nursing home. There's no suspense, merely an increasingly absurd
succession of twists and outrageous characters, from Martita Hunt's
vicious spy/nursing sister to Peter Ustinov's kleptomaniac/Russian spy
via Sam Jaffe's paranoid Shakespeare teacher/CIA man, all after the
mystery patient (Curd Jurgens in pajamas and sunglasses in a shuttered
room) who may be a key scientist. And that's not mentioning the
convention of ocarina players, the Germanic bartender or the garbage
men who make no secret of spying on the establishment, or Vera
Clouzot's mute mental patient
More theatre of the Absurd than thriller, this must have mystified and confounded Clouzot's fans when it originally came out. It is full of ridiculously funny moments, at times seeming almost a forerunner of The Prisoner, but it does ultimately overstay its welcome. Not exactly a failure but certainly not a success, file under interesting curiosity.
This intense study of suspicion and intrigue is devoted to the theme of 'whom can you trust?', with the answer being 'no one'. Henri-Georges Clouzot was a true master of suspense, known as 'the French Hitchcock', and he decided here to study spies in the way that an entomologist studies beetles, watching them scurry and turn over on their backs and die. Here, numerous people lie sweating in bed, many of them die, and all are betraying one another. They scurry around as if they smell something, and maybe they do, but often it is poison. One fires bullets through a door at an unknown enemy, several kill their deputies or assistants or proteges, and everyone is nervous. The Russians and the Americans both want to kill a physicist who knows too much. All of this comes to roost in a dilapidated rotting psychiatric asylum with only two patients, one mute woman played by Clouzot's wife Vera, giving one of the most powerful performances in the film without saying anything. The central character, superbly harried and worried and greedily noble, is played by Gerard Sety, to perfection. One minute he is grabbing a million, the next he is giving it away to save the world. Martita Hunt (Miss Havisham in David Lean's 'Great Expectations') is so creepy you will have no hair left on the back of your neck at the end of the film. O. E. Hasse is wonderful in a small but crucial part. Kurt Jurgens is powerful, massive, behind his sunglasses which he wears indoors as either a prisoner or a patient, one is for long not sure which. Peter Ustinov is sinister and menacing, not to be trifled with, always in an overcoat and greasily bearded. Sam Jaffe and Paul Carpenter are eerie and menacing, while vacillating between being heroes and villains: which is trying to kill which? Who is good? Who is bad? What is really going on? The complexities are so intricate, and the betrayals so compulsive that one realizes this is not just a thriller, it is a scientific study of just what its title says: 'spies', those deeply psychologically disturbed people whose sole restless compulsion is to search and betray. What a dark, fascinating, eerily photographed film, absolutely glistening with deceit in a kind of perennial dusk.
A somewhat over-plotted spy thriller by the French master of suspense
Henri-Georges Clouzot, that features spies from different countries
converging on a psychiatric clinic, run by doctor Malik (Gerard Sety),
who is offered a substantial sum of money to shelter a new patient that
happens to be an atomic scientist. Soon, the hospital beds are filled
with international spies all desperate after the information the
Just about everything in this espionage tale is open to question, with its wildly imaginative insinuations of nuclear devices, Amerian and Soviet secret agents and crackpot taxi drivers, doctors and patients. This film certainly has its moments, but is a little uneven and anyone familiar with Clouzot's work, knows this one is not strictly for laughs. It's all meticulously scripted, but is just a taut long (137 minutes) and soon becomes such an impenetrable puzzle, it's hard to keep track of the proceedings, but the film benefits from a good international cast, including Peter Ustinov (SPARTACUS, TOPKAPI, DEATH ON THE NILE), Curd Jürgens (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, THE LONGEST DAY), Sam Jaffe (BEN HUR) and Vera Clouzot (LES DIABOLIQUES).
Not without interest, but ultimately, the elements just don't glue together that well, with rather unsatisfactory results.
Camera Obscura --- 6/10
This is HG Clouzot's most ambitious work ,one of the most demanding and
complex movie of a soon-to-be -nouvelle-vague France.Let's put it
straight:although modern to a fault,"les espions" has nothing to do
with the nouvelle vague:no ""free" camera here",a bunch of "old
actors", a very elaborate screenplay.The problem is that it has nothing
to do with the "old guard" either.The "story" flouts conventions,and
HGC does not give a damn if his audience cannot catch up with it.The
film was bound to be a commercial failure,particularly with an audience
who got enthusiastic over "le salaire de la peur'(wages of fear) and
"les diaboliques" .
The starting point may recall "the diaboliques": in this latter work,a seedy boarding-school;in "les espions" ,a doctor short of the readies,whose clinic is sinking.So why not gladly agreeing a mysterious man's proposal?One million francs,if he puts "them" up?Who are "they"?That's how the doctor's(Gerard Sety) nightmare begins.He is caught up in the system,and a lot of threatening characters (played by topnotch international actors:Curd Jurgens,Martita Hunt,Sam Jaffe)begin to show up:every time he thinks he begins to understand,the truth eludes him-Gérard Séty 's character predates Laurence Harvey's in "the Mandchourian candidate" and even Michael Douglas's in "the game".HGC watched the spies as if they were microbes under a microscope.It's a rather unpleasant view. Vera Clouzot-the unforgettable heroine of "les diaboliques" - appears in the role of a deaf and dumb neurotic woman(She was to die of an heart attack three years later).
Clouzot 's health began to deteriorate during the sixties.After "les espions" he was to make only two works "la vérité"(the truth) one of Brigitte Bardot's best parts and "la prisonnière".He made only 11 movies in all,which may not seem much,but most of them are among the best works French cinema has produced.
In 1957 the Cold War was in full swing, "The Bomb" was a thing of
terror, the arms race was still a brand new concept and international
paranoia was running rampant. It was the perfect atmosphere for
Henri-Georges Clouzot to release LES ESPIONS (THE SPIES) upon the
world. A less celebrated film than the director's other films of the
period, THE SPIES nevertheless wages a war of nerves upon a level equal
to that in THE WAGES OF FEAR or DIABOLIQUE, and keeps its sense of
humour as well.
Running out of patients, money and hope, psychiatrist Dr. Malik (Gérard Séty) makes a deal with the devil. In this case the devil presents himself as an American Intelligence Officer (Paul Carpenter) who offers five million francs if Malik will keep a special guest, identified only as "Alex", for a few days at his rundown sanitarium. Malik is told that this person is of interest to foreign powers and that there may be strangers looking for him. The desperate Malik accepts one million francs as a deposit, a bundle of bills that grows increasingly heavy as he awakes the next morning to find that his staff has been enigmatically replaced during the night and that the strangers he was forewarned of have begun popping up even before the arrival of the mysterious "Alex".
From this point on neither Malik, nor the audience, know what is true or who to believe. Both the friendly American, Mr. Cooper, (Sam Jaffe) and the affable Eastern European, Kiminsky, (Peter Ustinov) ooze menace from the chinks in their veneer of civility, and nothing and no one can be trusted - not the child playing in the road, the bartender across the street and certainly not the mysterious Alex (Curd Jürgens) hiding his identity behind dark glasses and leather gloves. Yet, for everyone involved except Malik, all of this is business as usual, and the sheer ridiculousness of this contrast brings a dark humour to the proceedings.
In fact the greatest weakness of THE SPIES comes in the film's last fifteen minutes, when Clouzot unwisely lifts the veil of uncertainty and makes all clear. There is no great revelation that stuns the audience, only explanation which washes away the wonderfully absurd grays that have fuelled the film up to this point, in favour of a black and white clarity that weakens the film. Clouzot attempts in the film's final two scenes to recover what he imprudently surrendered a dozen minutes earlier, but THE SPIES would have been a far finer film if the last reel had never existed.
Less easily seen than some of Clouzot's other work, THE SPIES has been given a respectable release on DVD in the UK.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This absurdist satire of a world gone mad is a creepy delight.
SPOILER ALERT! The final scene is a real chiller, with the asylum keeper suddenly realising that, in an utterly insane world, the sane man is regarded as mad - and indeed is so, to all intents and purposes.
Like Kubrick's later 'Dr. Strangelove' the terrors of the H bomb are effectively used to create an uneasy comedy that finally lurches into horror, as the increasingly eccentric pursuit of the secret of the 'H3' super-weapon spins out of control, distorting reality itself in the process.
The twitterings of the Ocarina Players' Convention, the storm of feathers bursting (as it were) out of the frustration of a mute female patient, a mystery man called 'Vogel' (bird), and the harsh squawking of the insistent and threatening telephone: All these are memorable elements in a film as darkly humorous as anything by Hitchcock.
Curiously, I was often reminded of the quiet lunacy which threatens to engulf the two main characters in Alan Plater's TV trilogy, that begins with 'The Beiderbecke Affair'! Both film and TV series no doubt owe much to the inheritance of Kafka, showing as they each do the spectacle of people struggling to make sense out of their irrational and arbitrary fates.
The lack of any innovation in the cinematic technique of 'Les Espions' should not blind us to Clouzot's masterly creation, therein, of a world of ultimately inescapable horror.
This is a great film, and one to be viewed repeatedly.
Les Espions or "Spies" as it was released here in the US in '58 is both
a crazy film and a crazily efficient film. Its one of these movies that
somehow manages to work as both a genre spy film AND a parody of the
genre spy film at the same time. Oh don't get me wrong--it is NOT a
comedy, but again both a straightforward and at times (especially in
the second half) circular ride about the various secret agents, double
agent spies, and possibly murderous triple agents that suddenly start
to wreck havoc on the everyday life of this doctor/manager of a local
mental hospital. This poor guy is getting drunk in his local pub one
night and rather groggily moaning about how local politics are ruining
the lives of his honest poor working countrymen but nobody's got enough
common sense to either set the politicians straight or are too corrupt
themselves to do anything for anyone else---somehow this is enough for
this one other guy there to make the drunk doctor an offer he can't
refuse---see he's a secret agent with a secret division and he will pay
the good doctor a million dollars to shelter this east German defector
who's got some sort of nuclear secret weapon or something that will
change the fate of their country, blah, blah, blah but he's got to
protect him from everyone who will come after him--the doctor more or
less agrees when he sees the million dollars stuffed into his pocket
and more or less stops listening, goes home, passes out, and wakes up
to find....his staff has been replaced by two henchmen and a very
intimidating woman who all insist they're working for the secret agent.
Doctor soon finds patients who all insist they're working for the secret agent, barflies in his favorite bar who all insist they're working for the secret agent, neighboors wandering around the grounds of the hospital who all insist they're working for the secret agent...and well an entire community seemingly made out of nothing but professional "spies" all set on inserting themselves into the life of this good doctor. Before too long the actual German guy himself turns up and who of course will turn out to be...well i'm not going to say.
Who can the poor doctor trust? Nobody but the mute woman who seems to have a rather large crush on our good doctor and the heavily sedated gastric patient who were both there before the night the secret agent made him this million dollar propisition it seems. This doesn't stop hefty, overly friendly, and creepily passive aggressive Russian Peter Ustinov--and a constantly rationalizing and fear mongering older professor from constantly turning up and explaining to the good doctor just what is what and whom is whom, and generally causing confusion. When the German man does turn up and the doctor does do his best to shelter him amidst the serious chaos. (even tho the German man can very much take care of himself--way way better then the well meaning but completely over his head good doctor can) and well things just spiral more and more out of control plot wise from there. Suffice it to say that the three people i just mentioned in addition to the fake receptionist are all serving cross purposes and are constantly leaving red herrings and massive doublespeak in their wake causing the good doctor to have a hard time trying to keep up with what the latest info is that he needs to know.
This is all actually fun for a good hour or so but then the film more or less descends into a little bit of confusion as too many things the various people are telling the good doctor are taken to be the truth or taken to be lies. I realize the fun is supposed to be in figuring out the truth alongside the good doctor but when he eventually does and tries to do everything he can about it---it all starts to seem rather pointless. Also the longer this goes on the more you want to ask yourself exactly why is he still trying to get this all straight again? the money is already in your pocket bro--just take it and run! (which is of course exactly why the first secet agent picked him in the bar back in the beginning) Questions about motivation aside--the ending leaves you with a good nasty jolt, and that queasy expression you see on the good doctor's face will definitely mirror your own as the deeper implications of the doctor's position at the end of the movie sink in. Of course I don't actually know if that will be as true for you as it was for me, i thought it was a really effective ending---but I also really like ironic Twilight Zone style endings in which the hero doesn't exactly get what he wants but sort of achieves his goals even if they're far different then the way he'd imagined it to be. Its not exactly a realistic ending cause i doubt anything in this movie is realistic but i feel like its a smarter ending then most of the espionage movies of this era usually get, its an ending that's actually quite worthy of the best of Hitchcock himself (of whose work this movie truly and seriously resembles) (on a side note this movie also more or less reminds me as a whole of the long forgotten 1980's Donald Sutherland spy caper "The Trouble With Spies" which while played for laughs does in fact echo this plot in several key ways.)
In common, I would guess, with anyone who had seen and admired the earlier work of Clouzot beginning with Le Corbeau and culminating in Les Diaboliques, I approached this with taste buds primed for major salivation only to be disappointed. This has to be a one-off, a thriller sans thrills. At times it resembles one of those creaky British B-pictures of the thirties and forties so that you almost expect Wilfrid Lawson to emerge out of a pea-souper and stare meaningfully at Kynaston Reeves. For reasons best known to himself Clouzot even finds work for Paul Carpenter, surely the most inept and wooden actor on either side of the Channel, matched only by Laurence Harvey and Alan Lake. Having bought it on DVD I shall, I suppose, watch it again on the off chance that there really is something I'm missing besides a few brain cells shed in the time it took to unspool.
Master Clouzot strikes again as in le Corbeau, another master piece which is invisible today. During some good old days French TV was showing these master pieces. Now, these master pieces are worth of a sacrifice from the all mighty editing firms and should be availiable to connoisseurs!
I really don't enjoy writing this review and I only do it because some
of the other texts here give a very misleading picture. Clouzot was a
great director, but even the best were not prone to make ridiculous
movies. This film proves that genius and frenzy are really that close.
He made some of my favorite film, The Raven, Wages of Fear, Le
Therefore I was very much looking forward to see this film. Although I had known that Peter Ustinov found it stupid, I hoped he had a run-in with the director and the film is quite okay. It is not. After a few minutes so many idiotic things happen, it is hard to believe.
Many famous actors appear in the film, but the main story is carried by someone completely incompetent. The plot is so stupid that I don't want to mention it as it sounds like being written by an inmate of a lunatic asylum. It was not only boring but aggravating! This should warn you not to buy the DVD as I have done after reading the other comments.
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