A French lieutenant makes a bet that he can seduce any woman in town in the two weeks before his regiment leaves for maneuvers, but his chosen target (a Parisian divorcée) isn't like other girls he's known.
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The film under review closes off nicely Claude Autant-Lara's impeccable 15-year run of noteworthy pictures that had begun with 1943's DOUCE (see my upcoming rave review); it is also notable for being an unlikely but fairly successful meeting between the biggest (Jean Gabin) and hottest (Brigitte Bardot) stars in French Cinema at the time i.e. just before the outbreak of the "Nouvelle Vague" brought along a horde of fresh and irreverent talent. Adapted from a Georges Simenon novel, the plot of EN CAS DE MALHEUR is quite predictable and not entirely convincing but the consummate professionalism of all concerned smooths over any bumps that come up along the way. Bardot is an aimless youth who, together with her reluctant girlfriend, amateurishly attempts to pull off a small-time jewel heist that, inevitably, goes wrong and, eventually, picks up Gabin's name at random from a phone book to act as her defense counsel in court; not having the financial means to pay for his services, she elects to remunerate him in the only way she knows how: seduction. Although this particular sequence, as shown in the finished film, is disappointingly chaste, the deleted clip reproduced at the end of the copy I acquired is, however, too crude to be seen at such an early stage of the film and, in my opinion, the director was wise to jettison it; in any case, he did contrive to gives us a good look at the gloriously naked body (solely from the back, of course) of the 23-year old Bardot later on when she rushes out of the bathroom and into bed (much to the chagrin of Gabin's mousy secretary) of the apartment that Gabin provided her with! Needless to say, Gabin is already married (to the formidable Edwige Feuilliere) and, although on the surface she appears to condone Gabin's latest flirtation, she is obviously none too happy about it. To complicate matters further, Bardot is also seeing her irascible Italian lover (Franco Interlenghi) on the side and things come to a tragic head when she unwisely decides that loveless wealth is preferable to blissful poverty. Abetted by Jacques Natteau's noir-ish lighting and Rene' Cloerec's fine score, the colorful cast also includes three alumni from the films of Luis Bunuel, namely Julien Bertheau (appearing briefly at the very end as the investigating inspector at the scene of the crime passionel), Jean-Pierre Cassel (unbilled as an animated trumpeter, one of Bardot's casual lovers) and an unrecognizable Bernard Musson and even Jacques Marin and Daniela Bianchi (also unrecognizable). While the film's 122-minute running time would seem overgenerous on paper, it is only the belated (and unnecessary) introduction of the character of Bardot's maid that makes one realize this as we lay watching; I strongly suspect that the film-makers wanted to push the boundaries of censorship even further by hinting at a possible ménage-a-trois between her, Bardot and Gabin but, perhaps thankfully, this is not made all that clear in the few scenes they share together which is just as well since the huge difference in age between on screen lovers Gabin and Bardot and the above-mentioned nude scene had already raised the proverbial conservative eyebrows! For the record, the film was remade 40 years later as EN PLEIN COEUR aka IN ALL INNOCENCE with Virginie Ledoyen stepping into Bardot's 'shoes'.
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