France / 95 minutes / bw / Memnon, Alliance Générale de Distribution Cinématographique Dir: Henri Decoin Pr: Henri Lavorel Scr: Jacques Robert, Henri Decoin, François Boyer Story: La Machination (1951) by Jacques Robert Cine: Michel Kelber Cast: Raymond Rouleau, Jeanne Moreau, Raymond Pellegrin, Etchika Choureau, Marcel André, Claude Borelli, Jacques Charron (i.e., Jacques Charon), Paul Demange, Louis de Funes, Robert Hirsch, Jean-Louis Le Goff, Jean Olivier, Renée Passeur, Paul Azaïs, Guy Pierrauld, Raoul, Roger Saget, Jean Hébey.
A movie that doesn’t seem to know quite what it wants to be—a lighthearted crime comedy or a darker tale of betrayal and detection—and that thus finds itself oscillating between the two styles.
In Paris, the next production of the Théâtre Paul Rémi is to be a manifestly dire musical, based on Greek myth, called Rendez-Vous sur l’Olympe, directed by Mickaël Pakévitch (Hirsch), who just happens to be romantically involved with one of the production’s stars, Jany Noël (Borelli).
Etchika Choureau as Marie.
A few days before opening night, however, the theater’s angel, Bazine, falls to his death from a high catwalk over the stage, and the obvious suspect is the theater’s co-owner, Paul Rémi (Rouleau), who was up there with him. Paul’s guilt seems even more probable when it’s announced Bazine’s will has bequeathed to him all the deceased’s shares in the enterprise.
Paul’s wife Mona (Moreau) vows to stick with him through thick and thin, and, as l’Inspecteur Gosset (André) begins to tighten the net around him, spirits him away to a mental hospital, where he can lurk in confidential safety.
Raymond Rouleau as Paul Rémi.
Jeanne Moreau as Mona Rémi.
Paul’s absence gives Mona the chance to run the theater, a job we already realize she’s perhaps better equipped to do than Paul himself. She revels in the role, which makes her all the more susceptible to the claim of Paul’s sinister-seeming secretary, Andrieux (Pellegrin), that he saw Paul push Bazine to his death; it also makes her susceptible to Andrieux’s advances.
The person who believes absolutely in Paul’s innocence is the theater’s typist, Marie (Choureau), who loves him not-so-secretly and will risk her neck to save him, if need be. And—no surprises here—she succeeds.
Raymond Pellegrin as Andrieux.
All through the movie, events are occasionally interrupted by a clownish little man, Émile Carcassone (Demange), who keeps requesting a few moments with Paul and who keeps getting rebuffed. No cigar for guessing that, had people listened to Carcassone in the first place, the plot need never have happened.
Marcel André as l’Inspecteur Gosset.
For about the first forty minutes or so of Les Intrigantes we’re in comedy territory: this is the kind of stuff that Henri-Georges Clouzot used to do so well when he wasn’t creeping us out with his noir. In the rehearsals, Antonio Roncia (Charon), playing Pan, objects strongly that the nymph scripted to kiss him “voraciously” is female. The troupe of dancing nymphs are later told by Pakévitch that they have “asses to die for—so show them.” Politically incorrect jokes today, no doubt, but we’re watching a story set in the mid-1950s and, anyway, they’re still funny.
Claude Borelli as Jany Noël and Robert Hirsch as Mickaël Pakévitch.
There’s some other political incorrectness here, though, notably concerning the treatment of women, that ain’t so goddam funny.
And there are darker undertones to the tale, and these emerge in the next portion of the movie. Yes, it’s clear Andrieux is informing the cops because he’d like Paul to be convicted so that he, Andrieux, could have Mona. But is he inventing things or is he, even if malicious, an honest witness? It’s never made explicit how much Mona has acceded to Andrieux’s, um, requests, and if she’s gone as however far she’s gone because she’s stringing Andrieux along for love of Paul or (far more likely, the movie suggests) in pursuit of her own ambition to be the greatest theater director in Paris—an ambition, it’s made plain, she could very well realize, but also one that chauvinist Paul resents as something of an offense against nature.
Roger Saget as Damien.
Besides, what are we to make of Marie? She’s lovely and she’s personable but she’s a very great deal younger than Paul and also in so many ways a pain in the ass: by the end of the movie Paul must decide which among these are, so to speak, the dominant traits. There’s a sense that this was true of Etchika Choureau in real life, too: Like Grace Kelly, she threw over her movie career for a royal prince, in this instance Hassan II of Morocco, but the romance petered out and with it the career. (Or maybe it didn’t. Although Choureau married elsewhere, she and her husband remained suspiciously close to Hassan, turning a blind eye to the repressions he enacted upon his luckless subjects.) By then she’d done a couple of movies in Hollywood, but that foray had likewise come to nothing.
Renée Passeur, as Mme Marcange and Louis de Funes as Marcange.
I could see an awful lot wrong with Les Intrigantes, mostly in connection with that uncertainty of intent and tone—and it’s a good idea not to think too hard about the sexual politics expressed in the movie—but at the same time I found myself thoroughly engaged with it. Even the smaller parts, like those of playwright Marcange (de Funes) and his wife (Passeur), or Paul’s lecherous lawyer Damien (Saget)—Nymphs? Gimme more!—are splendidly realized, and there was lots of laughter to be had amid the occasional poignancies. If you leave your twenty-first-century preconceptions at the door there’s a great deal of enjoyment to be had here. If you found you had difficulty leaving those behind, I could understand that, too.