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Two sisters live in a lonely mansion by the sea. One of them (Marina
Vlady) is confined to a wheelchair. One of them, unknown to the other,
goes out at night to entertain random strangers in the front seat of
their convertible. But which one?
The question acquires a fresh urgency when the latest "victim" (Robert Hossein) shows up on their doorstep. The sisters look so similar he can't decide which one he encountered the previous night. Neither seems the type. The sisters invite him to stay and an awkward ménage à trois develops - awkward because the unanswered question remains: which of the two is lying about her nocturnal excursions?
This is the premise, and it's a thin one, but Hossein (who also directs) does a great job with the material, keeping the suspense going till the final scene. The direction is sleek and stylish, Vlady (Hossein's wife at the time) is jaw droppingly gorgeous, and there's a nifty jazz score by André Hossein. Put your disbelief on hold and enjoy.
A man (Lino Ventura) commits a murder, carefully staging it like a
suicide. But there's a witness: a taxi driver who saw him leaving the
scene of the crime. The loose end has to be tied up, and during the
next 24 hours the killer stalks his victim through the streets of
Paris, waiting for an opportunity to strike...
This is my favourite Molinaro film. It has stuck in my memory since I first saw it about 20 years ago, largely due to the atmospheric night time Paris location work and Ventura's powerful, almost silent performance. He plays a villain here, but not an entirely unsympathetic one. The film cleverly opens with a sort of prologue in which we're shown that the man he kills murdered Ventura's wife and got away with it. This fact, along with the actor's natural charisma, gives us an instinctive sympathy for Ventura's predicament, even while he's hunting down an innocent man.
The climactic chase involving a fleet of taxi cabs is well staged, giving the impression of an entire city uniting to destroy an unwanted presence in its midst. It ends, appropriately enough, amongst caged birds of prey.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A rich widow's beloved son is kidnapped for ransom, then brutally
killed. In a night chase, police pursue the two culprits to a dead end,
from which emerges... three men. Each man insists upon his own
innocence and the guilt of the other two. What follows is the police
investigation, then the trial to determine whodunit - or more
importantly, who didn't do it.
Cayatte's film is crafted like one of those thrillers where the mystery is revealed by the pipe-smoking detective in the final scene. Except it isn't. We never find out the truth, nor does the film even give us the means to figure it out ourselves. Each man seems as innocent or as guilty as the other two. And in the end all the men suffer the same fate.
The point, as often with Cayatte, is not simply to entertain us with a mystery thriller but to provoke with social criticism. He shows us how the legal system and human nature react (inadequately) in the face of such a dilemma. And the final outcome is horrifying. We could do with more films like this today.
Another B movie, another mad scientist tampering in God's domain. This
one gets hold of the recently executed body of a vicious killer named
Butcher Benton (Lon Chaney Jr) and brings him back from the dead. The
resurrection process also makes Benton indestructible - but I guess you
have to expect that kind of thing when you're tampering in God's
Benton has a score to settle with the thugs who helped put him on Death Row, so he sets off to get revenge and to collect a cache of stolen loot hidden in the LA sewers. Meanwhile a detective is closing in, helped by Benton's former girlfriend.
Aside from some dull romantic interludes between the cop and the girlfriend, the film moves along at a decent pace, helped by some good location work around LA and an effective, even sympathetic, performance from Chaney. As in his best known role as The Wolf Man, you get a real sense of the pain that his transformation has caused him.
Oddly, the film could probably have worked as well or even better without the sci-fi elements. If Benton had simply escaped from prison - without being resurrected, without being made indestructible - the core plot of a desperate man hunting down the rats who double-crossed him would still be there, and would locate the movie firmly in film noir country.
Christmas 1887. In a Parisian mansion, Douce, the bored daughter of an
aristocratic family, nurtures a secret passion for Fabien, who manages
the estate. But Fabien is the lover of Irène, Douce's governess, and
plans to elope with her using money stolen from the family. Meanwhile,
Douce's father, a widower, has also fallen in love with Irène, and his
proposal of marriage sets in motion a train of events with tragic
The opening tracking shot of "Douce", across a miniature of Paris with an Eiffel Tower in construction, establishes a fin de siècle world in which new ideas are imposing themselves upon the old landscape. In the social order, too, there is evidence of change: Douce's father (Jean Debucourt) sees only good in his planned marriage to Irène (Madeleine Robinson) and in her elevation to his own social level. This elevation is depicted literally when he takes her for a ride in his newly installed lift, a symbol of his modernity in the stuffy gaslit townhouse. For him, love transcends class.
But the father's manner is too mild ("douce"). He has been wounded physically and psychologically, plagued by a sense of failure, hobbling on a wooden leg. The household is dominated by his mother the countess (Marguerite Moreno), a harridan whose starched black dresses represent her inflexible adherence to the old order and the sense of sin associated with transgression of social boundaries. As well as blocking her son's happiness, she is infusing her granddaughter Douce (Odette Joyeux) with her outdated orthodoxies, not realising that the thrill derived from breaking a taboo may become in itself a potent attraction for a modern, rebellious adolescent. The intransigence and cynicism of the crowlike old woman are the poison that saturates this house from the top down.
There's an angry polemic burning at the heart of the film, but on the surface, as in the title, all is soft and calm. "Douce" is one of the most elegant films ever made, each scene gliding smoothly into another as the characters move from room to room within the mansion. The screenplay is polished and literary, the performances intelligent and refined, the music perfectly integrated into the drama, the direction exquisitely choreographed with sumptuous camera movements to rival Ophüls. It's a drama of biting satire and of deep emotions deeply suppressed, registering only as a narrowing eyelid or a pursed lip.
And at the centre of the drama is the 17-year-old Douce herself, brilliantly played by Odette Joyeux - who was almost 30 at the time, and older than Madeleine Robinson who plays her governess. Douce is depicted on contemporary posters as a bird in a gilded cage, but her nature is more feline: playful, impulsive and by turns tender and cruel. She is experiencing love for the first time, and this makes her a vulnerable and ultimately a tragic character. As she sets out in the snow for her midnight assignation with Fabien (Roger Pigaut), her hooded cape reminds us of Little Red Riding-Hood about to meet the wolf.
"Douce" is not an anti-bourgeois film, as some have suggested. Truffaut famously remarked (in condemning films such as Autant-Lara's): "What is the value of an anti-bourgeois cinema made by the bourgeois for the bourgeois?" The countess is ridiculous and contemptible, but the servant classes, as depicted here, are little better: Irène is an opportunist, Fabien is a thief, and his haughty attitude suggests a kinship of temperament with the countess. Only the rare few such as Douce and her father, who are willing to throw aside social convention and follow their hearts, are portrayed with sympathy in this film. And that's the message of Autant-Lara the artist, not the politician.
Someone is murdering the owners of a string of nightclubs, one of
which, The Plantation, is unexpectedly bequeathed to a student (Odette
Joyeux) on condition that she manages the club in person for a month.
In order to give herself some authority, she poses as the wife of a
wealthy Englishman, Steve Richardson. But then the mysterious Mr
Richardson (Paul Meurisse) shows up in person...
"Scandale" is a comedy thriller that doesn't really get going until the arrival of Paul Meurisse over halfway through the picture. From that point on, though, it's pure gold, with the ditzy Joyeux and the dapper Meurisse forming a wonderful pair of romantic sparring partners. There's an obvious Hollywood influence in this comedy relationship, and it's all to the good.
In one scene Meurisse shoots his way into Joyeux's bedroom, twirls his gun, pours himself a drink, then removes her shoes and tickles her toes to revive her from a pretended faint. And all without a flicker across his face. Though best known internationally as the evil headmaster in "Les Dialobiques", Meurisse really excelled at these deadpan comedy roles, importing a British style of dry black humour into French film.
Sadly, the first half of the picture, in which Joyeux's comic partner is a talking parrot, is not nearly so good.
Frédéric Truche, a respectable businessman, is on his way home one
evening when he spots an unattended parcel on a luggage rack in the
Métro. These days, the correct response would be to throw your hands in
the air and run screaming in the opposite direction. But this is 1947
and there are food shortages, and M Truche, suspecting it to be a ham
or a parcel of butter, slips it under his arm and takes it home to his
wife. They unwrap it eagerly, only to find... something very nasty
This might be the opening of a Fritz Lang noir; and the ensuing drama, in which M Truche finds himself sucked into a criminal process where no-one believes his innocence, could be the plot of a Hitchcock thriller. (In fact, it was - "The Wrong Man".) But "Tête blonde" is a comedy, and a fairly good one at that. The film's greatest asset is Jules Berry, an actor who excelled at playing screen villains but who could turn his hand to comedy with equal success. There's a lot of pleasure to be had here, watching the energetic Berry, in one of his last roles, trying to squirm and babble his way out of the Kafkaesque nightmare that seems to be leading inexorably to the guillotine.
Maurice Cam's direction of the comedy is unfortunately a little too heavy-handed, with a tendency to underline every quirky moment with jaunty music and wide-eyed close-ups. In the hands of a better director, this might have been something quite wonderful, rather than what it is: a pleasant black comedy and a showcase for Berry's comic skills.
Watch out for a strange cameo by Jean Tissier, a character actor who was exceptionally prolific around this time. Here, he plays a psychiatric patient giving Berry's character a lesson in faking insanity. It's hard to detect any real justification for this scene, other than the simple fun of seeing two great eccentric actors chewing the scenery together.
The Spanish occupation of Flanders had already been the setting for
Jacques Feyder's wonderful comedy "La Kermesse héroïque" of 1935. A
decade later, there was not much comedy to be found in the subject of
enemy occupation, and Louis Daquin's "Patrie", about a resistance
movement to expel the invaders, has an altogether more serious and
darker tone. It deals with persecution, summary execution, betrayal and
collaboration, heroism in the face of death, and above all the hope of
liberation and the sense of menace that might crush it at any moment.
No Frenchman in 1946 could have had any doubt that he was watching a
film about recent events in his country.
The correspondence between Pierre Blanchar's band of patriots and the French Résistance is so emphatic that one wonders why Daquin even felt the need to step back in time four centuries to tell this story. There was no longer an interdiction on films dealing directly with wartime events; nor does the historical setting throw any greater light on those events (as Arthur Miller's allegory of McCarthyism in "The Crucible" does, for example). Perhaps Daquin's point is simply that "There is nothing new under the sun".
Allegory aside, "Patrie" is a gripping drama that builds to a grim but stirring conclusion. Pierre Blanchar, tight-lipped and fierce-eyed, is the embodiment of suppressed fervour. Jean Desailly and Maria Mauban, as the lovers whose relationship threatens to undermine Blanchar's resistance movement, give intelligent and subtle performances. There is an excellent supporting cast (notably Louis Seigner as a wily prelate) and Daquin's unhurried, attentive direction shows them to advantage.
The use of music is interesting in "Patrie". The opening credits roll to a melody on church bells which, we soon discover, is a symbol of the resistance and the signal for the army of liberation to attack. The melody is taken up in various forms throughout the film until its dramatic use in the final scene.
Before she became the vampish femme fatale luring Jean Gabin to his
downfall in "Pépé le Moko" and "Gueule d'amour", Mireille Balin spent
several years playing the standard love interest in a handful of
lightweight comedies such as this one by Léo Joannon.
"On a trouvé une femme nue" finds her in a role that couldn't be further from her later, immaculately styled persona. Here, she's the tweedy daughter of a down-at-heels aristocrat (Saturnin Fabre) who decides that a marriage of convenience is the only way to save the family from ruin. As her last night of freedom, she attends a toga party being thrown by medical students, unaware of one important rule: any woman not dressed as a Roman will be stripped naked. Balin escapes into the Parisian night but not before being relieved of all her clothes except for a mask and a pair of high heels.
It's not unusual to catch a glimpse of bare flesh in a mainstream French film of this period, but rarer for one of the stars to get naked (though not unprecedented - Arletty has a topless bathing scene in the previous year's "Un soir de réveillon"). Balin was offered a body double but declined. However, she wears an eye mask throughout the scene and is only shown naked from behind.
Aside from the promise of mild titillation, and the always reliable Saturnin Fabre, there's little to recommend this film. Much of the comedy seems to be based on the theory that watching people getting drunk and having a good time is equivalent to having a good time yourself - a theory which this movie sufficiently disproves. The most effective scene is when Balin, covered up in an overcoat and top hat, spends an evening with her prospective husband, played with boyish charm by Paul Bernard (this was before Jean Grémillon added a darker shade to Bernard's charm in "Lumière d'été" and "Pattes blanches"). It's a sweetly romantic interlude that almost redeems the film. Almost, but not quite, as Joannon repeatedly interrupts it with shots of Jean Gobet playing the most irritating screen drunk I've seen in a long time.
Joannon was capable of much better work than this - in particular, 1942's "Caprices" with Danielle Darrieux and Albert Préjean, a screwball entertainment in the American style, and one of the best comedies of the war years.
An interesting aspect of this film is the way the cast appear on screen at the start to introduce themselves. It's an idea that predates Sacha Guitry's regular practice of using spoken credits.
An escaped convict seeks refuge with his former lover, Flora, who works
as a lion tamer in a travelling circus. She agrees to hide him from the
police and finds work for him in the company; but his past catches up,
putting Flora in mortal danger. Meanwhile, Flora's son, who doesn't
know the convict is his father, is planning to elope with the circus
It's a corny plot but never mind: the pleasure is in the details -- the characters and the sketches of circus life -- and in the skill with which Feyder weaves these into a grand spectacle and a coherent drama. At the heart of the picture is the tough but kindly Madame Flora, played by Feyder's wife Françoise Rosay. It's a tour-de-force performance, and a brave one, too, with Rosay getting up close and personal with some ferocious looking tigers. Feyder rewards her with long scenes and lingering takes.
"Les Gens du voyage" was the last film in which Feyder's genius from "Le Grand Jeu" and "La Kermesse héroïque" is still apparent (though it ranks below either of those masterpieces). As was the occasional practice of the time, he filmed a simultaneous German version, "Fahrendes Volk", with a mostly German cast. Françoise Rosay retained her role; indeed, it would be hard to imagine the film without her.
In her first film, little Louise Carletti gives a striking and mature performance as the spiteful younger daughter of the circus owner. She would become a familiar face in French cinema during the Nazi Occupation. And if you don't blink, you can catch a glimpse of future stars Micheline Francey and Madeleine Sologne, playing a couple of ballet students.
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