The sixties were a very hard time for Julien Duvivier.He was despised,tried for academism by the burning court of the nouvelle vague. He did not realize that he was much more than them,and thus,he tried some new tricks,some coming from the "modern" artists:the baroque castle might evoke that of "l'année dernière à Marienbad",and he hired two young actors ,one Chabrol's favorite,Jean-Claude Brialy,the other George Franju's darling,Edith Scob,and he tried to imitate Godard's "driving scenes" in "à bout de soufflé".
What's bred in the bone comes out in the flesh.Like Marcel Carné before him("les tricheurs"),Duvivier could not do "nouvelle vague" stuff,and anyway he's better at so many other things ,so why bother?John Dickson Carr,whose novels are extremely complicated, provided him with a very strong screenplay:the starting point is the authentic poisons affair,during the Sun King's reign;the marquise de Brinvilliers was one of the main convicts and she died on the scaffold,betrayed by a cop dressed up as a monk.In Brialy's and Claude Rich's uncle's desirable property,come an historian and his wife who is (believe it or not) a Brinvilliers's descendant.That's not all: the uncle is himself the cop Desgrez's descendant.And there's a curse,à la "hound of Baskerville" ,which has stroke every Desgrez since the marquise died. The uncle is a wealthy and ill old man whose death would be the welcome for his two nephews.It won't be long till it happens.
Duvivier managed to sustain suspense throughout the whole movie,with excellent scenes :the bal,with the mourners waltzing to Strauss music
around the coffin wide open;the foggy ,misty atmosphere of the park;the strange woman who seems to walk through a wall.But he did not succeed in linking the rational and the supernatural together.Edith Scob's character has no connection with the rest of the plot,and Dickson Carr's ending which allowed some doubt ,is turned to a complete "normal solution,in spite of the last words of the captain .
Those were hard times for Duvivier.Actor Alain Delon told he was suffering from not getting the esteem he deserved anymore.It was the final straight :three more movies and he was to pass away five years later.Since he's been restored to favor,quite rightly so.
NB:Desgrez ,a historic figure ,was also featured in the "Angelique Marquise Des Anges" saga ,with a dog called Sorbonne.
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