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Denys de La Patellière
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Daniel Boisett (Robert Hossein) and his friend Paul Genest (Jean Sorel) are disturbed by the home owner during an attempted safe-cracking. In the ensuing mêlée, Paul accidentally kills the home owner and both men flee the scene in panic. Paul manages to escape but Daniel is shot and wounded by police and is promptly sentenced to a lengthy stint in prison.
Fourteen months later Daniel manages to escape and while out walking on the road he meets up with Thomas (Georges Wilson), who after the pair quickly become friends, offers him a job at the Mountain Relay Station he owns. Daniel adopts a new alias and accepts the offer, but once there he meets Thomas' sexy young gold digging wife, Maria (Catherine Rouvel), and nothing will ever be the same from here on in...
Directed by Julien Duvivier (Pépé le Moko), who also co-adapts the screenplay with René Barjavel from the novel "Come Easy--Go Easy" written by James Hadley Chase, Chair de poule (AKA: Highway Pick-Up) is French film noir excellence. A picture that carries all the hallmarks of the 40s and 50s classic film noir cycle, and proudly wears this fact as a badge of honour.
Comparisons have inevitably been drawn to The Postman Always Rings Twice (Tay Garnett 1946), which in itself is no bad thing at all, but this is still very much its own animal. Duvivier never lets the story sit still as a standard formulaic plot, there's always some new twisty addition to the story coming around the corner, unstable characters entering the fray to keep the bleak noirish stew bubbling away.
A fascinating feature of the picture is that our main protagonist, Daniel Boisett, is actually a good guy. Sure he was a safe-cracker, but he's not murderous, and as it turns out fate conspires against him to make him seem like a multiple killer, when he clearly is not. He took the fall for his mate, escapes jail and tries desperately to start afresh with honesty and virtue. But once Maria comes into his life fate has already dealt its deadly trump card.
Women always pay with the same currency...
Maria is an absolute sex bomb, a sizzling siren of sexuality, but as Daniel tells her, it's a pity she's so rotten, because she is, and very much so. Yes, there's a back story to her that stings her emotional fortitude, but she's a bad egg for sure. Things quickly spiral out of control, where even though Daniel knows that Maria is a femme fatale of the highest order, he's caught in a trap, a trap from which himself and the other male players in the piece can't possibly escape.
Visually it's an intriguing picture as most of it is set in daylight up at a picturesque location. It begins in classic noir territory in the pouring rain as the men begin the safe-cracking job, and then during the escape, Duvivier and his cinematographer Léonce-Henri Burel produce a magnificent shot of a cop's giant silhouette felling the fleeing Daniel. After this we are predominantly in high light terms, but never once does the sense of claustrophobia dissipate, the atmosphere is consistently hot and sticky.
Impressively performed and directed, Chair de poule is cynical, bleak and like a coiled spring waiting to explode. From that bleak rainy beginning to the explosively ironic finale, this is, basically, an essential viewing for film noir aficionados. 9/10
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