Chabrol masterfully weaves a tale of murder and personal attractions among high-wealth types
"The Champagne Murders" has a murder mystery plot, but that's not what the script emphasizes until the finale draws near. The movie really portrays the lives and personalities of some very rich people, making good use of the talents of Maurice Ronet, Anthony Perkins, Yvonne Furneaux and Stephan Audran. These character studies go on for a good hour, almost shapelessly, without much emphasis on the first mystery aspect that involves the murder of a young girl in Hamburg that Ronet was with before we see him passing out.
The plot in one sense is very simple. Furneaux runs a champagne concern, but Ronet has the copyright on the name. She wants to sell out. He resists selling his name. Perkins is the husband of Furneaux. He was not born to wealth. Ronet has had psychological therapy as the result of his being attacked while on a date in which his date was strangled by the attackers. He doubts his stability. When the first girl is murdered, he begins to doubt his sanity. When a second one is murdered, again while he was nearby, his doubts grow larger. Furneaux is quite willing to supply an alibi if he will sign over the copyright. Perkins is in between and ambiguous.
But the plot is overladen with characterizations and relationships among these three and others. That makes the real story much more complex. There are many things hinted at that are not stated outright.
In bringing this all out, the hand of the master Chabrol is most evident in the set design, the color schemes, the camera shots and the editing. The sets involve elaborate furnishings, wall designs, and other aspects that Chabrol negotiates along with his actors. The color schemes, including clothing and makeup, rival what Hitchcock does. The shots and editing play right into the instabilities, schemes and rivalries of the characters. A great deal of care has gone into the construction of this film.
Tony Perkins was a master at playing these ambiguous characters whose motives and real desires are sometimes submerged. Ronet was excellent as the suicidal man in "The Fire Within". His role here is more multi-faceted and challenging. I believe that something of his skill is unfortunately lost in the dubbing in the American version I watched. Furneaux and Audran play characters that are not as complex. They are helped by their beauty, makeup and costuming and by being assigned enough action so that the dubbing makes less difference.
The ending may not please those who demand 100 percent closure, but it fits the movie's characters.
If you go into this film expecting a Hitchcockian masterpiece, you will be disappointed. It's not done that way. Instead, look for an exploration of some people of wealth, who have their own peculiar hangups and doubts and weaknesses.
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