Lautner's movie is, if anything, even more scathing about small town small-mindedness. The two versions develop the story differently, and not having read the novel I've no idea which is more faithful to it. Suffice to say I saw the French movie on DVD, and it's well worth seeing, assuming you can watch a film and read its subtitles at the same time (I pity those who can't; they miss an awful lot of great stuff.)
The main character, played by Theodore Bikel, is not at all sympathetic. He's a loyal member of Hungary's Communist equivalent of the KGB and only escapes to Vienna because his mentor has been purged and he fears being next. The premises in Budapest where these charmers operated (and before them the Black Arrow fascists, the other side of the same debased coin) is now open to the public, billed as The House of Terror.
Bikel escapes alone, leaving his wife to suffer the consequences. (Greater love hath no man, than he sacrifices his wife to save his own hide.) In Vienna he meets British agent, who takes him to meet his boss, The latter is suspicious and wants Bikel to prove he's not a plant by getting him to return to Hungary and help an aged professor to escape. This time he condescends to rescue his wife. Not only hasn't she been punished for his defection, she's not under surveillance.
Both escapes are ridiculously easy. No gun turrets, no guard dogs, no No Man's Land with mines. Just snip a bit of barbed wire and you're free. The Commies send assassins after Bikel, but they are comically incompetent. One misses Bikel in a Viennese park, and manages to kill the film's only interesting character (a shady wheeler-dealer) instead. The other shoots at Bikel on the runway at Paris airport, but only gets him in the shoulder, then promptly gets arrested.
As so often in films like this, an fading American star was imported. Pat O'Brien was 58 at the time, with what one reviewer's described as a turnip face (given his Irishness, potato face seems nearer the mark.) He looks tired, though given the character is a drunken, depressed widower, that's quite appropriate.
Despite his age and lack of dynamism, O'Brien flattens three villains in a fist fight. Since one of them is played by Freddie Mills, who'd only lost the world light-heavyweight championship seven years before, that scene wasn't totally convincing (English understatement working overtime.)
The heroine is played by the lovely Lois Maxwell, 30 at the time. The character is rather silly (she interferes without knowing the facts, thereby putting O'Brien's son in danger.) The film's main problem is that the leads make a very ill-matched couple, and have zero chemistry.
This is the last of a string of low budget B movies Terence Fisher made in the '50s, all competently made without being inspired. Who would have thought that his next film, "The Curse of Frankenstein," would lead to a whole series of Hammer horrors, mainly directed by Fisher. The budgets for these were probably pretty low too, but he showed a real flair for Gothic horror, though the law of diminishing returns inevitably set in.
A couple of footnotes. The villains operate from the office of a coffee bar in which Tommy Steele performs, too much for my taste. Steele got his start in such a place. And I think this was one of the last films made in Southall studios: the area has changed an awful lot since those days.
A teacher at a south of England girls' school is murdered, and since she had a talent for angering her colleagues, there are plenty of suspects. The investigation is led by Inspector Campbell from Scotland Yard. He's a dour Scot with a chip on his shoulder (he'd definitely have voted for independence!) but fortunately he's played by Gordon Jackson, who's always a sympathetic presence. I saw him play a villain in another Renown offering, I think "The Delavine Affair," and he didn't ring true.
One reviewer complained about the cut-glass accents, but given the date and milieu they're to be expected. The Queen still talks like that, and I agree it's irritating, but not as irritating as the inaudibility of so many modern American actors, which makes you wonder why their scriptwriters bothered writing dialogue.
"Death|" is unusual for a British B of the '50s is that there's some humour. When Campbell asks Miss Shepherd what book she's been reading she says "Death in Seven Hours", the book by Ms Sharman on which this film is based. She then needles the inspector by saying that an amateur sleuth solved the mystery. This gives the audience a clue, as later she solves the mystery before him, though to be fair that's because she'd seen something and not told him about it.
All in all, an enjoyable way to spend 64 minutes.
The film is set in Jerusalem. It starts with Dafna (the coolly beautiful Mali Levi) torching her husband's music and video store in which the husband lies dead, gun in hand. It appears to be a suicide, hence the title, but a very unorthodox police detective suspects Dafna may have killed hubbie, a loser who was massively in debt to Muki, a terrifying gangster who's given him a tight deadline to pay up. Muki threatens not only him but his family.
Muki operates from a junk yard. He has a bizarre obsession with William Tell and the apple on the head of Tell's son, and is attended by two frightening thugs even balder than himself. One of them has no right eye (when I saw it the film was entitled "Eye for an Eye.") He's not Eyeless in Gaza but Eyeless in Jerusalem, and how he came to lose the eye provides the film's most gruesome scene.
To say more would spoil your enjoyment. What makes the film so intriguing is that it hops around in time, and you're never sure what Dafna is up to or how she feels about her husband (her mother's attitude is "Divorce the bum.")
All in all a first-rate thriller, though perhaps a tad too long.
We get archive footage of Rabin's assassination, and various re- enactments, but the majority of the excessive running time focuses on the three-man committee appointed to investigate the security lapses which facilitated the killing. Each of the many witnesses is warned of the consequences of being untruthful, and there were so many witnesses I was ready to scream if I heard that warning again.These interminable scenes sent me to sleep for some time, and although I attended a screening where everyone was Jewish, a good many left before the end. I'd have done the same if I hadn't been in the middle of a row and reluctant to disturb others. I really should have been more selfish!
Gitai shows the toxic forces screaming their hatred of Rabin for seeking peace by reaching an accord with Arafat and the PLO. The mob at a Likud rally calling for Rabin to be killed, with Netanyahu on the balcony doing nothing to discourage them. The placards showing Rabin, who'd fought for Israel in the Haganah and then IDF, in Nazi uniform. The Orthodox rabbis invoking din rodef to say killing him was okay because he'd betrayed and endangered the Jewish people (one even said "Kill all Arabs.") The settlers, eager to seize yet more land from the Palestinians. To be fair, Hamas had rejected the Accord and stepped up its attacks: unless this was mentioned while I slept, its omission was a mistake.
There was a little light relief, from the witness who wouldn't sit down, and particularly the Orthodox woman psychiatrist, who'd never met Rabin but because she disagreed with his politics diagnosed him as schizophrenic. Overall though, I'd have been better off just reading a detailed account of this tragedy.
Starting in 1959, Mocky has directed well over 60 features, plus shorts, documentaries and TV work. On this evidence he's put quantity above quality. It's hard to see how he got the budget to assemble such an excellent cast of actors (the women are relatively weak) but no surprise that his recent films feature largely-unknown "stars."
The actresses, particularly the excessively made-up Myriam Mezieres, are made to look rather unattractive, perhaps to emphasise the good looks of Mocky as our heroic reporter. Needless to say they're all crazy about him. Mocky's narcissism, the excessive length and some lousy dialogue (Alaim Mory is no Michel Audiard) make the whole thing an endurance test.
Pathe have been issuing DVDs of restored, relatively rare French films like this one. The prints are excellent and have English subtitles: I wish Gaumont would follow suit, as there are so many neglected works from the 50s and 60s by the likes of Cayatte and Hossein, brushed aside by the New Wavers like the abysmal Jean-Luc. "Juror" could have been made by the more prestigious Clouzot or Chabrol, as it shares their disgust at the prejudice and self- protection of the provincial petit bourgeoisie, Duval's wife being a prime example (no wonder he's so frustrated.)
I've seen three Lautner films restored by Pathe, and this is easily the best (probably his masterpiece, but I haven't seen all of his work.) It's a pity he mostly made silly romps with insufferably smug stars like Belmondo and Meurisse, where nothing's at stake. All that prevents me giving this film 10 is that after Duval met the prosecuting counsel in a shop pre-trial and said he believed the accused innocent, said counsel would surely have rejected Duval as a juror: that scene was a mistake.
As an outsider it was fascinating to see how the French legal system works. The juror basically conducted the defence (the defence counsel hardly said a word!) Duval constantly interrupted proceedings to ask questions. He grilled witnesses, called for one to be recalled, argued with the prosecutor and suggested a reconstruction at the crime scene. None of this would be possible in the adversarial system we have in the UK and Us: the French system, which seems focused on trying to find the truth, seems superior.
The main problem was the inappropriately jaunty, comic tone. Even when they were in the dock and being sentenced to death the gang were fooling about. It's safe to say that Communists aren't renowned for their sense of humour, and are unlikely to be at their perkiest when facing death.
I was so bored I fell asleep, so never found out why they pulled the robbery, or who had fathered Alice's child. The fact that this won 9 Romanian Oscar equivalents, including best picture, doesn't reflect well on that country's cinema. Funnily enough there were no awards for the acting, which was the best thing, apart from the actual propaganda film at the end. (The man on whom the leading character seemed based was as bald as Mark Strong, so why was this fine actor made to wear the least convincing toupee since Wayne, Stewart and Heston were last in films?)
Any hope of credibility was destroyed by casting an American and a Frenchwoman as British agents. Whose brilliant idea was that? In addition, I for one had a job to make out what Ms Sanda was saying. James Mason was as stylish ever, and there were good contributions from Nigel Patrick, Michael Hordern and John Bindon, but Ian Bannen was terribly wasted.