It was out of sheer coincidence that this viewing followed those of Chabrol's JUST BEFORE NIGHTFALL (1971) and THE BREACH (1970) since it has thematic similarities with the former, while adopting an incongruously stylized approach as the latter!
In fact, we have here a strangling (which, however, is a flashback this time around and occurs towards the end rather than at the very start) that is almost a replica of the one in JUST BEFORE NIGHTFALL. Similarly, the culprit is depicted as being unable to find peace of mind (and, in this case, stop his crime spree) until he is apprehended! With this in mind, the "Cult Filmz" website (where THE HATTER'S GHOST was given a similar rating as mine) bemoans the unsatisfying ending but, as for myself, I was not bothered by its ordinariness (this is, after all, essentially a low-key affair).
Incidentally, Leonard Maltin who unjustly lambasts the film and awards it a measly *1/2 may have been baffled by the seemingly deliberate heavy-handedness at work and, consequently, took Michel Serrault's performance in particular to be absurdly overstated. He is literally a "Mad Hatter", thus providing a link to yet another of the director's earlier efforts i.e. ALICE OR THE LAST ESCAPADE (1977). Indeed, as with the afore-mentioned (and intrinsically histrionic) THE BREACH, this could well be deemed a parody Chabrol movie if it were not so compelling (based on a novel by Georges Simenon) and obviously accomplished!
In the long run, THE HATTER'S GHOST emerges to be one of the most purely Hitchcockian works by France's own "Master Of Suspense", with definite nods to PSYCHO (1960) and FRENZY (1972) but also featuring a STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951)-like complicity between the film's two leads. The other protagonist is Charles Aznavour no less impressive than Serrault, despite having far less screen-time as the mousy Armenian tailor who constantly shadows the hatter, even witnessing one of his murders, but is too afraid to report him and, owing to his own frail health, eventually dies. Also in the cast are a young Francois Cluzet as a reporter who not only follows the case but is periodically contacted via taunting letters by the strangler, THE BREACH's Mario David as the clueless Chief of Police and Aurore Clement as an attractive woman all the menfolk lust after but who is clearly fated to cross paths with the killer eventually.
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