Manche et la Belle, Une (1957)

vt A Kiss for a Killer
France / 98 minutes / bw / Michel Safra, Speva, Cinedis Dir: Henri Verneuil Pr: Michel Safra Scr: Henri Verneuil, Annette Wademant, François Boyer Story: The Sucker Punch (1954) by James Hadley Chase Cine: Christian Matras Cast: Henri Vidal, Mylène Demongeot, Isa Miranda, Jean-Lou Philippe (i.e., Jean-Loup Philippe), Simone Bach, Antonin Berval, Jean Galland, Ky Duyen, André Roanne, Marc Valbel, Alfred Adam.

Manche et la Belle - 8 Stella survives long enough to give P one last accuatory glare

My knowledge of French slang is minimal, and even more so of French slang as it might have been used in the 1950s, but as far as I can work out the sense of the word manche used here is “empty sleeve”, so that a reasonable translation of the title might be The Chump and the Babe. UPDATE: Reader Luc Secret, to whom my very great gratitude, has offered the correct explanation in the comments below.

The chump is Philippe Delaroche (Vidal), a lowly mid-thirties employee deputed by his superiors at the Pacific Banking Corporation to facilitate the purchase by a fabulously wealthy client, the widowed Stella Farnwell (Miranda), of her new car. He tries to wangle a 10% commission for himself out of the car dealer; when Stella immediately discovers this, he glibly Continue reading

Carrefour (1938)

France / 70 minutes / bw / Eclair–Journal, BUP Dir: Kurt Bernhardt Pr: Eugene Tuscherer Scr: Kurt Bernhardt, André-Paul Antoine Story: H. Kafka Cine: Léonce-Henri Burel Cast: Charles Vanel, Jules Berry, Suzy Prim, Tania Fedor, Marcelle Geniat, Jean Claudio, Jenny Hecquet (i.e., Annie France), Palau, Paul Amiot, Bovério.

Carrefour - 0 opener

The movie upon which was based the popular US fringe film noir CROSSROADS (1942) dir Jack Conway, with William Powell, Hedy Lamarr, Claire Trevor and Basil Rathbone.

A man named Leduc (Palau) attempts to blackmail prominent industrialist Roger de Vetheuil (Vanel) with the claim that de Vetheuil is really a lowlife hoodlum called Jean Pelletier, who swapped identities with the heir during the Battle of the Somme. De Vetheuil cooperates with the flics to have Leduc arrested. However, one of the newspapers gets hold of the story and splashes it far and wide. Aided and abetted by his lawyer, Pierre Alexandre (Bovério), de Vetheuil sues the paper.

Yet things soon start to look grim for his case. It emerges that, because of injuries received while serving at the Somme, he suffered complete amnesia; were it not for the fact that his childhood sweetheart, now wife, Anna (Fedor), tracked him down and identified him, he would have no knowledge of his earlier life. Michèle Allain (Prim), currently a successful nightclub owner but once Continue reading

Ménilmontant (1926)

France / 38 minutes / bw Dir & Pr & Scr: Dimitri Kirsanoff Cine: Dimitri Kirsanoff, Léonce Crouan Cast: Nadia Sibirskaïa, Yolande Beaulieu, Guy Belmont, Jean Pasquier, Maurice Ronsard.

A minor milestone of cinematic history, this longish short, full of early Expressionist flourishes, has a very noirish feel to it, notably in its cinematography and most especially in its highly imaginative editing (also by Kirsanoff), which makes creative use of such new techniques as double exposure; it’s at its most effective in the several places where it makes jerky little series of multiple, often unexpected cuts.

The movie is silent and has no intertitles; thus, although the basics of the plot are easy enough to follow, some of the details rely on the viewer’s interpretation. Ménilmontant is, anyway, more about mood and impressions than about the details of a plot that doesn’t entirely hold together; this is a quite affecting, haunting little piece, one that gets under the skin.

Menilmontant - the younger sister (Sibirskaïa) finds the Lover schnoozling her big sis

Nadia Sibirskaïa as the younger of two sisters trying to make their way in Paris.

Somewhere in the countryside, two little girls are playing in the woods while, unbeknownst to them, back home their parents are being murdered by Continue reading

Vent se Lève, Le (1959)

vt Time Bomb

France, Italy / 92 minutes / bw / Groupe des 4, Da. Ma. Cinematografica Dir: Yves Ciampi Scr: Yves Ciampi, Henri-François Rey, Jean-Charles Tacchella Story: Jean-Charles Tacchella Cine: Armand Thirard Cast: Curd Jürgens, Mylène Demongeot, Alain Saury, Paul Mercey, Robert Porte, Daniel Sorano, Jean Daurand, Gabriel Gobin, André Dalibert, Jess Hahn, Raymond Loyer.

In Le Havre, wastrel siblings Michel (Saury) and Catherine Mougins (Demongeot) have run the family shipping business into the ground since the death of their magnate father. A friend of Michel’s suggests to him, as if it were a new idea, the old shipping-insurance scam: fill one of the company’s ships with a cargo of sawdust in the guise of expensive Ceylon tea, scupper the ship, blame an old WWII mine for the sinking, and claim a huge sum from the insurance company. The shipping firm owns a suitable hulk, the Volturnia, now docked in Hamburg.

Vent se Leve, plotters Jurgens & Demongeot

Jürgens and Demongeot, plotting mischief.

Catherine ropes in her much older lover Éric Muller (Jürgens), a retired sea captain trying to make it big in business, and in turn he ropes in his Hamburg pal Mathias (Sorano), a specialist in criminal bombings. Together Éric and Mathias plant a time bomb in the bowels of the vessel; before going ashore, Mathias announces that nothing can now stop the bomb going off at 3am.

The ship sets sail for the planned detonation area, the vicinity of an old minefield (so as to make the “accident” seem plausible), with Éric as skipper, and needless to say there are problems. They Continue reading

Dernier des Six, Le (1941)

vt The Last One of the Six

France / 89 minutes / bw / Teledis, L’Union Générale Cinématographique, Citadel Dir: Georges Lacombe Scr: Georges Clouzot (i.e., Henri-Georges Clouzot) Story: Six Hommes Morts (1930) by S.A. Steeman Cine: Robert Lefebvre Cast: Pierre Fresnay, Michèle Alfa, Suzy Delair, Jean Tissier, Jean Chevrier, Lucien Nat, André Luguet, Georges Rollin, Raymond Segard, Paul Demange, Odette Barencey.

A far better remake of The Riverside Murder (1935).

Five years ago six broke friends—Jean Perlonjour (Chevrier), Henri Senterre (Luguet), Georges “Jo” Gribbe (Rollin), Marcel Gernicot (Nat), Tignol (Tissier) and Namotte (Segard)—pooled what little money they had and sent Perlonjour to gamble with it. He returned having won triumphantly, and the sextet agreed to split the money six ways and each go out into the world to seek their fortune, reuniting in five years to share their wealth.

Now the impoverished Perlonjour returns to Paris, where Senterre has become a wealthy nightclub impresario; they discover that Namotte has apparently been murdered by being thrown from L’Aquitaine en route from Dakar to France. Another arrival is Gernicot, who seems twitchy and uneasy; his unloving wife, professional markswoman Lolita (Alfa), proves to be an old flame of Perlonjour’s. Gribbe has been in Paris all the while, forging cheques and betting on the ponies; Tignol was in Rouen, where he married a rich widow.

Gernicot is shot in Senterre’s luxury apartment; by the time Senterre returns with help, the corpse has disappeared. The plot really centers on the mystery of how this disappearance was effected. When Tignol’s murdered in Senterre’s nightclub during Lolita’s premiere performance there and then Gribbe is found dead in a fleapit Paris hotel, it’s obvious to all—and especially Commissaire Wenceslas “Wens” Vorobotchik (Fresnay)—that one of the quasi-tontine is murdering the others. The solution to the mystery—the identity of the killer—is obvious in hindsight, less so while you’re actually watching the movie.

It would be hard to claim this as a full-scale noir—there’s too much humor, notably from Wens’s chanteuse mistress Mila Malou (Delair) but also elsewhere—but it certainly has borderline noir status. Since it was made at a time when the French had no access to the crime movies being created in the US—those movies that would become regarded as the core works of film noir—we can hardly claim it was influenced by them; had it been made ten years later, on the other hand, we’d have been pontificating about its being derivative of the US school.

Aside from its stylishness, there are some obvious differences, especially in terms of its attitude toward sex: There’s no opprobrium attached to the fact that Wens and Mila are living together (in a US movie of the time, there’d likely be a conscious focus on the arrangement’s sordidness, assuming it weren’t just written out of the script) and, when Mila talks about a friend of hers who slept with every fireman in a firehouse, her horror is not at the promiscuity but that the friend should sink so low as to sleep with firemen. Again, part of Lolita’s shooting act at Santerre’s decadent nightclub The Palladium is to burst globes that are being held aloft by nude women, little of whose nudity is hidden from the camera; even though the scene is charming and satirically witty rather than salacious, the upholders of the Production Code would have had a fit. Just compare this with the markswoman act of Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins) in GUN CRAZY (1949), which the US thought was rather saucy.

Les Dernier des Six (1941) - A scene you'd not find in a contemporary US movie

A scene you’d not find in Gun Crazy (1949).

Clouzot would bring back the characters of Wens and Mila in his directorial debut, L’ASSASSIN HABITE AU 21 (1942; vt The Murderer Lives at Number 21), again based on a Steeman novel. Both movies, and others involving Clouzot as either writer or director (or both), were done for the Nazi-financed company Continental, a circumstance that was to cause him some trouble after WWII was over.

Reportedly Lacombe declined to direct the protracted Busby Berkeley-style nightclub act himself.

On Le Dernier de Six