Friday 18 March 2016

The Duvivier Dossier (48) - Barrie Pattison reviews the director's post-WW2 career (part 2)

L'homme à l'imperméable/ The Man in the Raincoat 1957

The bleakness of the post war Duviviers provided an unexpected pay off here putting Fernandel, with whom the director had an excellent established rapport, into a Hadley Chase murder story.

Clarinettist Fernandel is urged to take advantage of his wife’s absence by visiting vice girl Judith Magre, who inconveniently comes out of her shower with a knife in her back, our hero being the man in the raincoat seen leaving the scene of the crime. Blackmail, more bodies, (lots more bodies) more noir. The comedian, getting laughs out of reacting to the sinister settings and events, produced one of his best efforts, a sharp contrast with the bland films he was turning out at that stage.

Sinister production is expertly delivered by technicians including cinematography by the great Roger Hubert punching under his weight here. Visiting John (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Blake Edwards, USA, 1961) McGiver has a role in this French speaking production.

As well as sub-titled, this one circulated in an expertly MGM-dubbed-in-Paris copy which still blunted the impact.

Pot-Bouille/Lovers of Paris  1957

This all star “saucy French picture” was an event in the fifties. It’s nicely played by the accomplished cast in elaborately ugly Barsaq decors and a few exteriors - a horse autobus passing, carriages pulling up to the apartment house in the rain for the wedding.

Newcomer Gerard Phillipe is introduced to the freshly constructed apartment building by it's architect. Anouk is raising a child in one flat and has little function in the scheme of things (sheltering Dany Carrel when she looks like being caught in Phillipe's area)  beyond providing more star power. Darrieux's Au Bonheur des Dames fabric shop benefits from Gerard’s sales ability till he tries it on with her and, fired, switches to the opposing  family business which is running a major sale.

Here the Duvivier bitter, fifties comedy is at its most evident. Heads of families have artist’s model and show girl mistresses who are also having affairs with the younger men of Phillipe's set. When Gerard’s liaison with the now married Carrel is revealed, it looks like he'll have to fight a duel with Duby, which the social mechanism goes into gear to avoid - for its effect on the business.

The film's consistent nastiness excludes sympathy for young marrieds Carrel and Duby. The morning chorus of maids who abuse doorman Rignault and discuss the guilty couple in their hearing, is the final vicious comment on shared living spaces. Unfortunately they come on like fugitives from a De Funes movie. The maids gossiping in Fassbinder’s Pioneers in Ingolstadt plays better.

The great cast are effectively deployed. Flat, studio-based, sharp-focused filming with uniform illumination is professional but uninteresting.

The Zola tone is faint, as is the allusion to the beginning of the Twentieth Century. The earlier Au Bonheur des dames by Andre Cayatte (France, 1943) and Duvivier’s own silent show case ideas have only a shadowy connection to this plot. The troubled founding of Department stores they offer is missing here.

Marie-Octobre 1959
Sid Lumet doing 12 Angry Men (USA, 1957) in a single room was a challenge that Julien Duvivier was up for. Here the post-war Maquis unit re-union, called by Darrieux, code name Marie-Octobre, proves not to be the expected social event but an inquiry to find out who betrayed them to the Germans during the occupation.

Keeping attention without the usual crutch of changing time and settings is a bravado exercise and everyone concerned shines. It is one of Darrieux’ best serious performances. Telling close-ups and nervous background glances propel the suspense.

The monochrome film making know how is more impressive than the plot - was there any resistance unit that didn’t have a conflicted turn coat in its midst? That’s a small price for the tension Duvivier’s lot generate.

La femme et le pantin/ A Woman Like Satan/ The Female 1959
They were throwing Bardot  at all the established French directors and none of their high serious attempts could match the strip-teasey appeal of Vadim. This was Duvivier’s turn and he failed the BB test more decisively than the others - though Godard ran him close.

Cast and Eastmancolor & Scope production values are substantial but the director doesn’t make any connection to the old Pierre Louys pot boiler that also passed through the hands of  Jacques de Baroncelli, Joseph Von Sternberg & Luis Bunuel at different times.

English language re-voicing is predictably disastrous as our sex kitten tramples suitors in sunny Spain. Probably the director's worst film.

Boulevard 1960
This third Duvivier run through of the Poil de Carotte plot, while not exceptional, was more likable than the run of the director’s late work.

Here at the start of his career, Jean-Pierre Léaud is another son craving his father’s affection. His vehicle is the then “adult” stew of Pigalle gays, pimps, poverty and nudity professionally hoked-up.

Every so often a touch rings true - the stripper rushing to the mirror to re-assure herself, romance blooming when the girl won’t let Pierre feel her up the way her friend did and boxer Pierre Mondy again defeated by a foul. The father-son reconciliation is pretty well foolproof, even in post East of Eden (Elia Kazan, USA, 1955) days.

There are elements in which we recognize the director, with a lurching camera in a
drunken brawl and the stylized gym decor. They work better than the matching of the studio roof set and the real city.

Le diable et les 10 commandements/ The Devil and the Ten Commandments 1962
The Carnet de bal format is lasting remarkable well into the sixties, where films à  sketch were commonplace. Here it’s given a few nouvelle vague trimmings - no fades and jump cuts that don’t serve the voyeur bounced in strip club scene well. The presentation of the film’s glamorous women also relates to the Vadim era.

Framing story with Michel Simon as a foul mouthed caretaker in Mother Superior Claude Nollier’s nunnery is funnier that Mai Harris’ sub-titles rendered it. The ever appealing Françoise Arnoul gold digs a diamond necklace in yet another run through of the Grass is Greener /Coup de berger plot. Predictably Fernandel’s is one of the best episodes - playing an agreeable God who is tolerant of the African fetish sculpture (“It’s all me”) - with the miracle from the Feast of St. Jorgen plot re-cycled. Alain Delon, then peaking, goes to see birth-mother actress Danielle Darrieux with the une femme sans importance tag line, as one of the characteristic twist endings. Compare the arrest at the end of Brialy’s story.

There’s some more that may have been nipped out of the copy I saw or may have just been unmemorable. This is smooth Grands Boulevards entertainment more interested in pulling crowds than setting new standards.

Chair de Poule 1963 (tba)

Diaboliquement vôtre /Diabolically Yours 1967
Duvivier’s last film was a slick Euro-thriller headed up by beautiful people of the day – Alain Delon and Senta Berger - and handsomely mounted in bright Eastmancolor by top technical talent Paul Cayatte, Henri Decae, Francois Roubaix, Léon Barsacq.

There’s an amnesia plot which rhymes with all manner of things The Third Day, Somewhere in the Night, My Name is Julia Ross, Les Diaboliques,  back to Sherlock Holmes and “The Copper Beaches.”

After his road accident, Delon is not sure that he is the person every one keeps on telling him he is. Most memorable moment is kinky Asian servant Kim fastidiously ironing Berger’s scanties.

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