Deadlier Than the Male
- 1h 53min
André Chatelin is a restaurant owner in Les Halles in Paris. One morning, a girl named Catherine asks to see him. She happens to be the daughter of his estranged wife, Gabrielle, that André ... Read allAndré Chatelin is a restaurant owner in Les Halles in Paris. One morning, a girl named Catherine asks to see him. She happens to be the daughter of his estranged wife, Gabrielle, that André left more than twenty years before. As Gabrielle has just died, André accepts to accommoda... Read allAndré Chatelin is a restaurant owner in Les Halles in Paris. One morning, a girl named Catherine asks to see him. She happens to be the daughter of his estranged wife, Gabrielle, that André left more than twenty years before. As Gabrielle has just died, André accepts to accommodate Catherine first, then gives her a job in his restaurant before finally marrying her. Bu... Read all
It boasts one of Jean Gabin's finest performances ever - no mean accolade given that Gabin simply never acted badly, regardless of the quality of the film he appeared in. And he appeared in a fair number of duds.
In this case, he delivers a calm, nuanced performance reflecting the basic good nature of his character, always ready for a kindness to his staff, customers, and friends. He loves his mother and treats his old maid with respect, two women who have always looked out, and continue to look out for him. However, his genuinely benign nature belies a strong character. He is no pushover or fool. The subtle script trains the spotlight on a selfless, generous man who gradually loses his cool and changes as he finds more and more about his deceitful wife.
His first wife, whom he divorced but does not resent for taking him to the cleaners, is the mother of his second wife to be, Catherine, a young woman played by the beautiful yet facially plain Danielle Delorme - an interesting combination of contrasts that reflects Catherine's own inner contradictions, and capacity to change mood, lie and backstab others in the blink of an eye.
Delorme delivers an outstanding performance of psychotic complexity under the veneer of normality and bodily elegance. It is clear from the way she looks at Gabin and at his restaurant that she has a plan. That she is not the angelical soul she tries to convey comes across steadily, and is confirmed with her clever and opportunistic theft of a wad of notes from a customer.
There is nothing innocent about her purported innocence, and her laughing and crying reaction to Gérard murder is a sequence of genius and psychological insight reflecting Duvivier's sensitive understanding of the fact that Catherine is not just out and out evil, but is also capable of love.
Catherine ingratiates herself into Gabin's life with ulterior motives which are dropped piecemeal in the viewer's lap. The result is riveting film narrative.
Tough logic drives the highly credible and incisive script. B&W photography is exceptional. Fitting soundtrack, too, with great initial song by Germaine Montero.
There is not one weak acting performance in the film. Gérard Blain excels as Gabin's loyal but misunderstood and tragically misrepresented best chum. Gabrielle Fontan as Gabin's sharp-eyed and whip expert mother, and Lucienne Bogaert as Delorme's drugged mother also deserve the highest plaudits.
Perhaps César could have been a meaner-looking dog. I accept that but César too has an exterior that belies his inner personality. That fun and loving exterior conceals a basic loyalty toward his beloved owner, himself an example of loyalty. The scene where César lies next to Blain's covered corpse is deeply touching and it provides the logical ramp for his final, revengeful attack. The beast is capable of far nobler feelings than the modern-looking, cunning, and apparently civilized Catherine, the trademark femme fatale.
Must-see film noir. 10/10
- Nov 4, 2020