Lucky Jo (1964)

France / 87 minutes / bw / UGC, Les Films Sirius, Les Productions Jacques Roitfeld, Belmont, Eléfilm, CFDC Dir: Michel Deville Pr: Jacques Roitfeld Scr: Nina Companeez, Michel Deville Story: Main Pleine (1959) by Pierre-Vial Lesou Cine: Claude Lecomte Cast: Eddie Constantine, Pierre Brasseur, Georges Wilson, Christiane Minazzoli, Claude Brasseur, Françoise Arnoul, Jean-Pierre Darras, André Cellier, Christian Barbier, Anouk Ferjac, Marcelle Ranson, Jean-Paul Cisife, Jean-Pierre Rambal, Pierre Asso, Pierre Le Rumeur, Jacques Echantillon, Willy Braque, Jean-Pierre Moutier, Bernard Mongourdin.

A movie that’s commonly listed as a comedy although it doesn’t comfortably fit that description. Yes, there’s a lot of—often very funny—comedy in it, but there are elements too of tragedy and pathos. Its mixture of moods is rather like that of real life, in fact, where we can laugh at human follies and weep at their tragic consequences.

In Paris, three French crooks—Simon Archambaut (Wilson), Napo (Darras) and Gabriel Farkas (Cellier)—and their expat American colleague, Christopher “Lucky Jo” Jowett (Constantine), use various inventive strategies to commit their crimes; in the opening sequence, for example, we see them dressed as monks to carry out a bank stick-up, afterward fleeing ungainly on foot like crippled bats through the cobbled Parisian streets. The Parisian trio eventually notice, however, that, every time Lucky Jo goes along on a job, something unpredictable goes awry and one of the others ends up doing a jail term.

Eddie Constantine as Lucky Jo (left) and Jean-Pierre Darras as Napo.

Finally it’s the getaway from an apartment burglary that—hilariously—screws up, and this time Jo himself is 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