US / 97 minutes / bw / Darryl F. Zanuck Productions, TCF Dir: Richard Fleischer Pr: Darryl F. Zanuck Scr: Jules Dassin, ghostwriting (because blacklisted) for Mark Canfield (i.e., Darryl F. Zanuck) Story: Drame dans un Miroir (1958) by Marcel Haedrich Cine: William Mellor Cast: Orson Welles, Juliette Gréco, Bradford Dillman, Alexander Knox, Catherine Lacey, William Lucas, Maurice Teynac, Austin Willis, Cec Linder, Eugene Deckers, Vivian Matalon, Yves Brainville, Jacques Marin, Martine Alexis, Marc Doelnitz.
Orson Welles aa Émile Hagolin.
We know from the outset that all is not well in the relationship between hard-drinking construction boss Émile Hagolin (Welles) and his mistress, Éponine Mercadier (Gréco). When she brings him his packed lunch on his latest building site, we get this:
Émile: “You’re late. Every day. I’m dying of hunger.”
She has eyes only for his studly crane-driver, Robert Larnier (Dillman), who seems much enamored of her and happy enough to tolerate her two small daughters from some unspecified former relationship. The lovers murder the brutish Émile, but the dismembered corpse is soon discovered and they go to trial.
Charged with Éponine’s defense is young lawyer Claude Lancastre (Dillman again), who’s carrying on an affair with Florence (Gréco again), wife of his mentor Henri Lamorcière (Welles again); Henri seems to believe he owns Florence because, Pygmalion-like, he raised her up from nothing.
Orson Welles as Henri Lamorcière.
Clearly the two triangles are mirrors of each other, a parallel emphasized in the movie by the duplicate roles of the three principals. The obvious question that comes to mind is: Will Claude and Florence kill the old man to be rid of him, as Robert and Éponine killed Émile Hagolin, Éponine’s elderly discard?
There’s a hint that Claude might be starting to realize that, even though Éponine is a confessed murderess, she’s still in many ways a better, more honest—and more desirable—person than his pampered mistress, who makes no bones about the fact that she merely uses Henri as a passport to luxuries. But it’s no more than a hint: in the event it goes nowhere.
Bradford Dillman as Robert Larnier and Juliette Gréco as Éponine Mercadier.
Juliette Gréco as Florence Lamorcière and Bradford Dillman as Claude Lancastre.
The theme that becomes more dominant toward the movie’s end is Henri’s determination, as the cornered old bull, to destroy young usurper Claude and also, because he cannot destroy his own wife, Florence, then Éponine, as her proxy.
Austin Willis as investigating magistrate Hurtelaut.
William Lucas as Robert’s defense lawyer, Kerstner.
Gréco is captivating, as always, in both roles. Welles has a ball grandstanding in his final speech to the court, in which he betrays the promise he’s made to Claude while at the same time seeking—perhaps even genuinely—a higher justice. Dillman, who died earlier this year, is a lighter-weight player, his face familiar from a million (give or take) tv series, but he holds his own here, in both roles.
And the soundtrack’s by Maurice Jarre. What more could you want? This movie could scarcely have been better had it been made in France.
Catherine Lacey as Mother Sainte-Marie, Mother Superior of the Prison de la Roquette.