vt Seccion Desaparecidos; vt Of Missing Persons
France, Argentina / 80 minutes / bw / Guaranteed, CICC, Borderie, Discifilm Dir: Pierre Chenal Pr: Jaime Cabouli, Raymond Borderie Scr: Pierre Chenal, Domingo Di Núbila, Agustín Cuzzani Story: Of Missing Persons (1950) by David Goodis Cine: Américo Hoss Kamenzinia Cast: Nicole Maurey, Maurice Ronet, Inda Ledesma, Ubaldo Martínez, Élida Dey, Jose Comellas, Pedro Pompilio, André Norevó, Guillermo Battaglia, Luis Otero, Dorita Vernet, Marisa Núñez, Amalia Bernabé, Jorge Villoldo, Alberto Bacigaluppi, Nelly Lagos, Enrique Brown, Raúl Deval, Félix Tortorelli, Enrique A. Quiles.
Since Section des Disparus is based on a David Goodis novel, I cannot imagine how I managed to miss this splendid piece of Argentine/French noir from my A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir.
Lawyer and philandering shit Jean Milford (Ronet) has been fooling around with Diana Lander (Maurey)—who seems to be one of those burlesque showgirls who does not in fact show—on the basis that, so he tells her, he’d marry her on the spot were it not for his snooty, status-conscious family.
The real reason for his reluctance is that he’s already married—to an older woman, heiress Amanda Merlino “Mendy” Milford (Ledesma), whom he wed solely because of her money and because she could protect him from a jail term he richly deserved
Diana’s showgirl friend Stella (Dey) reveals the truth to her, and Diana vows to break off the affair. Meanwhile Mendy, likewise aware of what’s been going on because of her gossipy acquaintance Aidee (uncredited), confronts Jean with an unpleasant truth: he can break off the affair or face the consequences of the past.
He storms off to get plastered in a local bar. There he encounters an anonymous inebriate (Otero) who wants to catch a train to his daughter’s wedding. On impulse, Jean gives the man a lift to the station, whence the train is already leaving. The drunk’s attempt to leap aboard it leads to a predictable and grisly result.
Therein Jean sees a solution to his problems. He fakes things so the hideously mangled corpse seems to be his own, writes a quick suicide note, and Bob’s your uncle. As a man who’s officially dead, he can knock off Mendy and look forward to a life of unbridled (albeit penniless) bliss with Diana. What he doesn’t reckon on is that Mendy—or even a combination of Mendy and Diana—could by the very same token, taking advantage of his supposed deadness, knock him off without fear of retribution . . .
Of course, that’s not exactly how things work out by the end.
Diana’s a good egg—a far better person than Jean (or, for that matter, Mendy). When she discovers his evil plan she goes to warn Mendy, explaining that her motive is not so much that she wants to help Mendy out as to forestall the possibility of Jean becoming a murderer.
The case is investigated by Commissaire Uribe (Martínez), head of the Section des Disparus/Seccion Desaparecidos, who first becomes acquainted with it when Mendy arrives in his office demanding he find her missing husband. He reacts initially like a complete misogynist, asking her if Jean might have a lover; it’s not, to be honest, a question that might have occurred to me on first meeting Mendy, who may be older than Jean and Diana but, well, blimey.
Uribe then adds to his ageist idiocy by telling a colleague, “I think he just got rid of her, and I can see why!”
The Goodis novel is listed in the opening credits as Cornered; so far as I can establish, there’s no such book by Goodis, so I have to assume Cornered is a little-known variant title; there seems no doubt (judging by synopses) that the movie’s based on Goodis’s Of Missing Persons. If you find out something different, please lemme know in the comments.
I watched the Argentine cut of this French/Argentine movie, which seems to be a few minutes shorter than the other. Maybe a lot of smut was excised for the sake of 1950s Latin sensibilities, or perhaps it’s just that the established references, as so often, have the running time wrong. My own hypothesis, since there are some funny jumps, lies somewhere between the two.
I enjoyed learning that in Argentina—at least in the 1950s—a certain Scottish drink was called “wheeky.” It’s a pronunciation I dimly recall using myself on certain shameful occasions.