Des Gens Sans Importance (1956)

vt People of No Importance
France / 99 minutes / bw / Cocinor, Chaillot, Ardennes-Films de René Lafuite Dir: Henri Verneuil Pr: René Lafuite Scr: Henri Verneuil, François Boyer Story: Des Gens Sans Importance (1949) by Serge Groussard Cine: Louis Page Cast: Jean Gabin, Françoise Arnoul, Pierre Mondy, Yvette Etiévant, Dany Carrel, Nane Germon, Jacques Mann, André Dalibert, Pierre Fromont, Alain Bouvette, Ardisson, Nina Myral, Max Mégy, Gérard Darrieu, Lila Kedrova, Robert Dalban, Héléna Manson, Paul Frankeur.

Christmas Eve, and long-distance trucker Jean Viard (Gabin) and his co-driver Pierrot Berty (Mondy), veterans of the Paris–Bordeaux run, stop at a roadside diner, La Caravane, to grab a couple of hours’ sleep. La Caravane’s one-legged owner, their old friend Émile Barchandeau (Frankeur), has hired a new waitress, Clotilde “Clo” Brachet (Arnoul); even though she’s not much older than Jean’s wannabe-sexpot 17-year-old daughter Jacqueline (Carrel), she and Jean strike a spark.

I’m not going to be too worried about spoilers: first because Des Gens Sans Importance isn’t the kind of movie you watch waiting for the plot twists and second because most of the accounts of this movie you’ll come across will go into far greater detail about the plot than I will here. What I want to do is give a barest-of-bones outline so I can talk about other aspects of the movie.

Jean Gabin as Jean.

Despite the disparity of their ages and even though she knows he’s been married for years to Solange (Etiévant), Clo eventually seduces Jean. Five months into the affair, 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

Chambre Ardente - 0b opener 2

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