Tendre Poulet (1977)

vt Dear Inspector; vt Dear Detective
France / 106 minutes / color / Ariane, Mondex, GEF–CCFC Dir: Philippe de Broca Pr: Alexandre Mnouchkine, Georges Dancigers, Robert Amon Scr: Philippe de Broca, Michel Audiard Story: Le Commissaire Tanquerelle et le Frelon (1976) by Jean-Paul Rouland and Claude Olivier Cine: Jean-Paul Schwartz Cast: Annie Girardot, Philippe Noiret, Catherine Alric, Hubert Deschamps, Paulette Dubost, Roger Dumas, Raymond Gérôme, Guy Marchand, Simone Renant, Georges Wilson, Henri Czarniak, Maurice Illouz, Georges Riquier, Armelle Pourriche, Francis Lemaire, Guy Antoni, Guy Di Rigo, Jacqueline Doyen

For some reason I had it in mind this was a far more noirish movie than it proved to be; I must have been getting it confused in decades-ago memory with something a bit dourer, like Pierre Granier-Deferre’s ADIEU POULET (1975; vt The French Detective) or even Claude Chabrol’s POULET AU VINAIGRE (1984; vt Cop au Vin). However, on what was effectively a first-time watch I fell completely in love with the piece, and thus persuaded myself it deserved a place here. Even though it’s essentially a romantic farce in police-procedural guise, there are four murders, one of which is shown in moderately grim detail, so it does kinda sorta hook into the French school of noir.

No?

Well, that’s my justification, anyway.

Lise Tanquerelle (Girardot) is a senior police detective and divorced mother in Paris. One day, hurrying home in the car for the birthday party of her little daughter Catherine (Pourriche), she knocks Professor Antoine Lemercier (Noiret) off his moped. After she’s Continue reading

Naked Tango (1990)

Switzerland, Argentina, Japan, US / 91 minutes / color with some bw and some limited-color footage / Jane Holzer, Denise Rich, Jade M, Martin Hellstern, Praesens-Film, Sugarloaf/Gotan, Grupo Baires, Towa, New Line Dir & Scr: Leonard Schrader Pr: David Weisman Cine: Juan Ruiz-Anchía Cast: Vincent D’Onofrio, Mathilda May, Esai Morales, Fernando Rey, Cipe Lincovsky, Josh Mostel, Constance McCashin, Patricio Bisso, Javier Portales, Rubén Szuchmacher, Marcos Woinsky, Sergio Lerer, Hector Arbelo, Claudio Garófalo, Santos Maggi.

On a luxury liner bound from Le Havre to Buenos Aires, Stephanie (May), married just three weeks ago to the much older Judge Torres (Rey), is already weary of him. When she witnesses a young passenger throwing herself overboard, Stephanie impulsively takes the dead woman’s place, and arrives in Buenos Aires as the mail order bride of Zico Borenstein (Morales).

Fernando Rey as Judge Torres.

Esai Morales as Zico.

Alas, Zico and his sweet old mama (Lincovsky) intend to put Alba to work in their brothel—she’s just the latest in a series of women they’ve imported and enslaved under false pretenses.

When Alba in self-defense Continue reading

Too Many Suspects (1975 TVM)

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“In a few minutes, this woman will be dead. The question is: Who killed her? . . . Match wits with Ellery Queen and see if you can guess: Whodunnit?
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US / 98 minutes / color / Fairmont Foxcroft, Universal Dir: David Greene Pr & Scr: Richard Levinson, William Link Story: The Fourth Side of the Triangle (1965) by Avram Davidson writing as Ellery Queen Cine: Howard Schwartz Cast: Jim Hutton, David Wayne, Ray Milland, Kim Hunter, John Hillerman, John Larch, Tim O’Connor, Nancy Mehta (i.e., Nancy Kovack), Warren Berlinger, Monte Markham, Gail Strickland, Tom Reese, Vic Mohica, Dwan Smith, John Finnegan, Rosanna Huffman, James Lydon, Basil Hoffman, Frannie Michel.

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“B–b–b–b–b–but!” I can hear you cry. “Surely there can be few things less noirish than the pilot movie for an Ellery Queen TV series? Even Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies have more of the mean streets about them than Jim Hutton as Ellery Queen.”

You forget two things. First, that your humble scribe has had an affection for the tales of Ellery Queen that has lasted most of his reading life. Second, that, like it or lump it—and Raymond Chandler famously lumped it—without the strand of crime fiction of which Ellery Queen is a prime representative, the hardboiled strand might not have flourished. And without hardboiled crime fiction we might not have had film noir. Let’s remember, too, that there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of difference between an Ellery Queen movie of the early 1940s and The FALCON TAKES OVER (1942), based on Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely (1940), or, for that matter, DANGEROUS FEMALE (1931) and SATAN MET A LADY (1935), both based on Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (1930).

Leaving those justifications aside, the year selected for this month in Rich Westwood’s Crimes of the Century feature at his Past Offences blog is 1975 and, although there were other possible candidate movies—such as Arthur Marks’s humdinger A Woman for All Men (1975)—this was the one that I fancied watching and writing about.

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It’s 1947 in NYC and, as the movie opens in the apartment of swish fashion designer Monica Gray (Mehta/Kovack), we hear a voice in the background:

“Good evening. This is our fourth week of bringing you world and local news through the exciting new medium of television.”

A shot rings out, and what we next see is Monica crawling agonizedly across the carpet to pull the plugs of her TV set and her electric clock from the wall. It is exactly 10.25pm.

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Monica Gray Nancy Kovack) has just moments to live.

The case goes to Inspector Richard Queen (Wayne) of the NYPD’s 3rd Division, and he’s intrigued enough by the supposed clue of the plugs being pulled from their sockets that he lures his son, mystery writer Ellery Queen (Hutton), into the investigation, despite Ellery’s state of panic about Continue reading

Chambre Ardente, La (1962)

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An ancient curse, a modern crime!

vt The Burning Court; vt Das Brennende Gericht; vt I Peccatori della Foresta Nera
France, Italy, West Germany / 109 minutes / bw / International, UFA-Comacico, Taurus Dir: Julien Duvivier Pr: Julien Duvivier, Yvon Guézel Scr: Julien Duvivier, Charles Spaak Story: The Burning Court (1937) by John Dickson Carr Cine: Roger Fellous Cast: Nadja Tiller, Jean-Claude Brialy, Perrette Pradier, Édith Scob, Walter Giller, Duvallès, Héléna Manson, René Génin, Claude Piéplu, Dany Jacquet, Gabriel Jabour (i.e., Gabriel Jabbour), Laurence Belval, Antoine Balpêtré, Claude Rich, Carl Brake.

Chambre Ardente - 0a opener 1

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The celebrated John Dickson Carr mystery novel upon which this is based was at the time somewhat controversial, because its solution more than hinted that the supernatural was involved; for obvious reasons, this was regarded by mystery buffs as breaking the rules. (I remember reading the novel many years ago, and I’m surprised that this element didn’t trouble me. In my mystery reading I’m usually pretty prim about such infractions.) The conclusion to the movie, too, breaks the rules of straightforward mystery plotting, albeit in a different way—one that may well infuriate some viewers.

The movie starts with a scrolled and spoken preamble:

“On July 17, 1676, Marie d’Aubray, Marquise de Brinvilliers, accused of witchcraft practice[s] and convicted of having poisoned her father, her two brothers and numerous other persons, was burnt at the stake on a Paris square, after having had her head cut off. Her ashes were thrown to the wind. Before her death she cursed the lover that betrayed her and all his descendants. The following tells the story of that curse.”

Today (i.e., in the early 1960s) Mathias Desgrez (Duvallès), the last direct descendant of Emile Desgrez—the cop who disguised himself as a priest to infiltrate the convent where Marie was hiding, became her lover and then turned her over to the authorities—is living near-eremitically in the grand chateau he built in the Black Forest for his wife, who alas died young. The only people he sees with any regularity are his nurse, Myra Schneider (Tiller), his housemaid, Frieda Schiller (Jacquet), his married housekeeper and gardener, Augusta Henderson (Manson) and Frédéric Henderson (Génin), and a neighbor, Dr. Hermann (Balpêtré), a genial doctor stripped of his license some years ago for performing an abortion. The two old men have fun exploring the occult together, although Continue reading

Latin Quarter (1945)

vt Frenzy
UK / 71 minutes / bw / British National, Anglo–American Dir & Scr: Vernon Sewell Pr: Louis H. Jackson Story: L’Angoisse (n.d. play) by Pierre Mills and C. Vylars Cine: Günther Krampf Cast: Derrick De Marney, Joan Greenwood, Frederick Valk, Joan Seton, Beresford Egan, Lilly Kann, Martin Miller, Valentine Dyall, Anthony Hawtrey, Bruce Winston, Kempinski, Espinosa, Margaret Clarke, Rachel Brodbrar, Sybille Binder.

Latin Quarter - 0 opener

The second of no fewer than four versions that Sewell made of a Grand Guignol play whose title translates as The Anguish. His other three adaptations—all of which differ quite a lot—were The Medium (1934), Ghost Ship (1952) and House of Mystery (1961). All are supernatural thrillers; this one has in addition many aspects reminiscent of historical noir. There’s a sort of quotation of the movie’s premise in Claude Chabrol’s much later POULET AU VINAIGRE (1984; vt Cop au Vin).

Paris, the Left Bank, 1893. Sculptor Charles Garrie (De Marney, who also served as Associate Director) has moved into the old studio of his erstwhile rival Anton Minetti (Egan) and, for enigmatic reasons, has insisted that everything be left exactly as it is—to the annoyance of his model and girlfriend Lucille Lindbeck (Seton). The concierge, Maria (Kann), barely dare step inside the place, for time and again she hears the pipe organ playing when there’s no one there but herself. (What’s an artist’s studio without a pipe organ, after all?) Although Charles publicly pooh-poohs Maria’s accounts, he too has had spooky experiences in the studio, such as the lamp that inexplicably flickers and dies every Continue reading

Maison sous les Arbres, La (1971)

vt The Deadly Trap; vt Death Scream
France, Italy / 96 minutes / color / Corona, Pomereu, Oceania Dir: René Clément Pr: Robert Dorfmann, Bertrand Javal Scr: Sydney Buchman, Eleanor Perry Story: The Children Are Gone (1965) by Arthur Cavanaugh Cine: Andreas Winding Cast: Faye Dunaway, Frank Langella, Barbara Parkins, Karen Blanguernon, Raymond Gérôme, Maurice Ronet, Michèle Lourie, Patrick Vincent, Gérard Buhr.

Maison Sous les Arbres - 0 opener

Two Americans, Jill Halard (Dunaway) and her scientist husband Philippe (Langella), live in their Paris apartment with their children Cathy (Lourie) and Patrick (Vincent). There’s a sense that Philippe has fled a project or situation that he disliked in the US, because he’s now copyediting science books for a French publisher. At the start of the movie he’s contacted by a spokesman (Ronet) for “The Organization” with an offer to go back to his old work to carry out, in noirish parlance, One Last Job. When Philippe hotly refuses, the persuasions turns to veiled threats against his family, which threats he treats as just so much rhetoric.

Maison Sous les Arbres - 3 PatrickPatrick (Patrick Vincent) finds a new toy.

Maison Sous les Arbres - 1 CathyCathy (Michèle Lourie) tries to hold the family together.

But then things do indeed start going alarmingly awry with the Halards’ world. While Philippe is off at a conference in Toulouse, Jill and the kids are Continue reading

Floater, The (1961 TVM)

US / 49 minutes / bw / Hubbell Robinson, NBC Dir: Herschel Daugherty Pr: Boris D. Kaplan Scr: Winston Miller Story: The Con Man (1957) by Ed McBain Cine: Lionel Lindon Cast: Robert Lansing, Ron Harper, Norman Fell, Gregory Walcott, Gena Rowlands, Robert Culp, Natalie Norwick, Paul Bryar, Wally Brown, Andy Albin, Victor Sen Yung, Dal McKennon, Ralph Manza.

Floater - 2 the magazine ad set to lure gullible gals

The pilot for the shortlived (1961–2) TV series 87th Precinct, this sees the boys of the 87th tackle the case of a floater found in the river. The medical examiner reports that she didn’t drown but was dead of arsenic poisoning before going into the water, and that she has a small tattoo of a heart with “MAC” inside it on the sensitive flesh between her right thumb and forefinger. Detectives Steve Carella (Lansing) and Meyer Meyer (Fell) soon identify her in the Missing Persons records as Scranton native Mary-Louise Proschek, who ran away from home to the big city to escape boredom and find love. The tattoo is recent, and so Carella, Meyer and Detective Bert Kling (Harper) start combing the city’s tattoo parlors to see if anyone can recall Mary-Louise.

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Robert Lansing, more than adequate as Steve Carella.

Steve is accompanied on one such visit by his mute wife Teddy (Rowlands). Although the tattooist, Charlie (Yung), has never done such a tattoo—he explains it would be painful—Teddy becomes fascinated with the idea of having a tattoo of her own: a butterfly on her shoulder. Some while later, Continue reading