A French UN delegate has disappeared into thin air, sending reporter Moreau (Jean-Pierre Melville) and hard drinking photographer Delmas (Pierre Grasset) on an assignment to find him. Their only lead is a picture of three women.
1941 in a small town in Nazi occupied France. Against the will of its elderly male and his adult niece residents, the Nazis commandeer a house for one of their officers, Lt. Werner von ... See full summary »
In a snowball fight between schoolboys the handsome Dargelos hits the chest of Paul, who drops unconscious to the ground. Paul has a deep affection for Dargelos, and later denies that there... See full summary »
When French ex-paratrooper turned amateur boxer Michel Maudet looses his last fight he decides to quit boxing. The French banker and businessman Dieudonné Ferchaux is looking for a new personal secretary and bodyguard. The 25 year old ex-paratrooper is perfect for this role and he accepts the job. Because Mr. Ferchaux is in trouble with the French authorities, especially for his tax evasion crimes, he decides to run to America taking his personal secretary and bodyguard with him. After being threatened with extradition from the USA Mr. Ferchaux plans to escape to South America.He carries a vast sum of money with him but his bodyguard Maudet has a few dishonest ideas of his own.Written by
Yves Boisset, who was assistant to Melville on the shooting, confessed that Melville asked him to find some local American extras for the bar fight. And one of them was a student named Robert De Niro, who was twenty years old at this time. But Melville rejected him. See more »
Southern Discomfort - the great French director takes on the road movie with mixed results
I must confess I was terribly excited at the prospect of Jean-Pierre Melville tackling the road movie. If a director was ever suitable for taking on his back the existential baggage usually associated with that particular sub-genre, that's old Jean-Pierre. But in the same time, nine out of ten times there's a reason why certain films of a director's ouevre receive all the plaudits while others tend to languish in obscurity. Simply put, Magnet of Doom is not among Melville's finest - probably not his worst either. It's just too awkward and clumsy to ever be truly successful from an artistic or technical standpoint and even though fans of the director will take pleasure in witnessing the early nurturing of those same ideas, themes and moods that would later transform into what became his signature style, Magnet of Doom lacks the singularity of purpose and stylistic confidence of something like Le Samourai.
Melville weaves the plots of two characters, an amateur boxer scraping to get by after his boxing career goes down the drain and the stalwart, rich businessman on the run from the law (presumably for someone's murder) who hires the first as his secretary and travel companion, into a road movie that takes us all the way from the petit bourgouisie cafes of France to Manhattan to the Deep South and bayous of New Orleans. If you can forgive the wooden delivery and stilted dialogue American non-actors are saddled with, the choppy editing, the occasionally clumsy and haphazard camera-work, there's quite a few things to appreciate. Melville's guerilla tactics as he samples New Orleans nightlife with a camera shooting from the open car of a moving vehicle, the documentary style of his footage of empty highway stretches, slick diners, smoky bars and neon motel signs, small parts of a puzzle that in clicking together form a different kind of Americana. One seen through the eyes of a European not necessarily fascinated with what he sees. If the boxer's fixation on Frank Sinatra, the son of Italian immigrants much like himself, symbolizes the mythic quality of the New World, a motley assortment of thieving hitchhikers, soldiers spouting racial slurs and opportunist, murderous bar owners reveals the seemy underbelly of the American Dream.
Behind the slow-burn atmosphere however, behind the minimalism of the plot, the sparse dialogue, the intimacy of the monologues, all typically Melvillesque ideas and themes that would later resurface in a more refined, surefooted form, there's not much of a story to speak of. Not only is the plot stretched pretty thin, not only does it suffer from one too many improbabilities (not plot holes necessarily but little distractions that accumulate in the course of time) but it's handled in a somewhat awkward manner. The gradual shift of power in the duo's relationship, as one learns to experience freedom and the other comes to term with solitude, is not enough to carry the dramatic weight of the plot and beyond that there's not much of anything. And if Belmondo's character redeems himself in the finale for being a conniving, self-serving scoundrel for most of the film, he has the show stole from right under his nose by by the great Charles Vanel (Les Diaboliques, Wages of Fear, To Catch a Thief) who gives another terrific performance.
12 of 14 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
| Report this