The racial and sexual politics of America would never have allowed my selection to be made in 1947 Hollywood without beating us over the head with A Lesson or A Message. And even with the lessons some thing would STILL be lost in translation. Let me take you into my thoughts on director Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “QUAI DES ORFÈVRES.”
The Criterion Collection has been opened wide for bloggers to mine their treasures in this mega-blogging event of the century. You think I’m exaggerating? Hey, just look at that roster; there are about 200 entries covering films from the United States, France, Sweden, Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom, etc. So for the next six days, our three hosts: Aaron over at the CRITERION BLUES blog, Kristina from SPEAKEASY and Ruth of the blog SILVER SCREENINGS will host the Criterion Blogathon celebrating the collections’ celebrated titles. I will cover “QUAI DES ORFÈVRES.”
Henri-Georges Clouzot is best remembered for two towering classics: “Wages of Fear”
( 1953 ) and “Diabolique” ( 1954 ). The French government banned him from filmmaking near the beginning of his career for making “Le Corbeau” ( 1943 ) a film very critical of the government. Four years later Clouzot’s comeback film was 1947’s “Quai Des Orfèvres.”
WHAT A GREAT MOVIE!!! STILL! ( I watched it recently after not seeing it for years. ) It held up to my memory of it. The plot was full, detailed and gives a good sense of post-war French culture. By the time the movie ended I thought I WAS French. Watching it made me feel like I was wrapped in a 5000-thread count sheet. Ahhhhhhhhhh so satisfying. “Quai Des Orfèvres” has the same sensibility to me as “Fallen Idol”; love, loyalty, betrayal and a police investigation narrowing and tightening a noose around people we’ve come to care about. The movie also makes me think of “The Earrings of Madame de…”. Not just because it was French, but because the movie felt so full, real, tactile. Chock-full of detail. I can ‘feel’ the characters, all fully fleshed out. I can ‘feel’ the film.
Now I admit…this is my preference in French pastry:
But a girl can change her mind, can’t she? Our prerogative and all that sort of thing…
“Quai Des Orfèvres” has Gallic charm with shades of Hitchcock and O. Henry and “The Big Clock” thrown in for good measure. We visit two distinct worlds in the movie and Clouzot takes his own sweet French time in each of them. The first half of the film deals with the backstage world of show biz.
And here is where we’re introduced to the battling Martineaus. Wife Jenny Lamour ( played by SUZY DELAIR ) sort of looks like a sensuously, slightly zaftig version of Angela Lansbury.
Jenny’s a harmless, shameless, incorrigible flirt and tease. She’s a headlining chanteuse at the local music hall and soon appears in café society due to her singing, sex appeal, drive, ambition and self-promotion. She seduces the audience and co-workers alike. To her husand I say why fight? How can you stay mad at her? You know she’s got you wrapped around her finger.
Her husband is Maurice ( BERNARD BLIER ):
“It sounds nuts but Maurice is my flame. He may not burn
bright, but he lights my way.”
…Her very jealous husband, I might add. He might look kind of mousy, but he’s passionate and has a temper. A co-worker calls him Othello. Maurice is besotted by Jenny. I don’t think he begrudges her a career; if only she were honest with the men who could help her, by telling them she’s married. But then they wouldn’t help her. What a pickle this is…for Maurice. I liked him. He was passionate. He would fight for her…fight anyone. I liked his obsessiveness. Poor little sad-sack.
Lesson No. 1–10: Remember, don’t get in-between a married couple. You’ll lose. They might fuss and fight, break up and make love, but they’ll side with each other always. I like the way Clouzot shows Jenny & Maurice fighting; the fight spans from one location to the next. I like how he cuts through time. For example, we see Jenny practice her new song from rehearsal studio to practicing in her house, to rehearsing onstage to actually putting on a full out performance for an audience, each stanza in a different location. Cleverly done.
This is Dora:
Dora Monnier is played by the beautiful SIMONE RENANT. Yeah I have to lead with that because she is beautiful; she is statuesque with chiseled features. But she does have an actual job. She owns her own business. She is a photographer. She is no nonsense. And she’s in love with Jenny. The French don’t make a big deal about this. It’s not scandalous. She doesn’t have two heads. She’s not the butt of derision or going to hell in a handbasket. Nor is she judged ( as she would be in a Hollywood movie ). She’s merely, in love with her childhood friend. And it’s painfully unrequited for Dora. The dialogue speaks refreshingly frank with no muss, no fuss.
This is my favorite shot in the entire movie. I like the way Clouzot unfurls this triangle in a linear fashion:
Here is the triangle of ( L-R ) Jenny, Maurice and Dora. Dora and Maurice are in love with Jenny – see how they both look at her – and Jenny is in love with Jenny ( and even with that, Jenny is looking into THREE mirrors. O Mon Dieu! ) Jealousy and love makes a person do crazy things like publicly threaten your wife’s suitor or walk into a murder scene. And that’s exactly what Maurice and Dora do…for love of Jenny.
The lecherous little gnome Brignon ( CHARLES DULLIN ) is murdered and his death is the catalyst for everything to follow. Director Clouzot now moves us into the police procedural aspect of the story with Inspector Antoine there to unravel it all.
LOUIS JOUVET as Inspector Antoine:
We find out all we need to know about him as he readies himself for work. He’s a single parent and leaves his son to take on this investigation. His son is bi-racial…again, no fuss no muss, just facts; or matter-of-fact. I even feel a little guilty pointing it out to you. He’s so loving to the boy, just the way he kisses the sleeping child goodbye. Awwww!
The inspector is methodical. Clouzout takes us into the Inspector’s world of witnesses, informants, third degrees, beatdowns, reporters, police photographers. The police station is as cacophonied a world as the backstage goings on of Maurice’s burlesque hall. We weave in and out of both worlds. I fell in love with the dour, unstoppable Inspector Antoine.
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I…held…my…breath as Clouzot shows us potential witnesses who:
- don’t talk
- burn and destroy evidence
What we ( the audience ) are shown to be clues in the beginning of the movie, are thrown away before our very eyes. And we’re actually happy about that. We hold our breath even more when Inspector Antoine start to really pick up on things. Doesn’t it remind you of “Fallen Idol”? Like Hitchcock, Clouzot builds the suspense by showing us what Dora does and what Maurice does, all in their effort to protect Jenny. We hear Jenny’s story of how grindingly poor she was, which helps us understand why she wants to make it so badly. She’s not just a flibberty gibbet coquette. Jenny wants to confess; but then Dora doesn’t want her to, b’cuz the cops’ll send Jenny up the river ( the Seine ) and Dora will lose her. Jenny and Maurice in some twisted twisted O. Henry plot point both hide something from the police AND each other to complicate things a little more. ( It will make sense if you just see this movie like I’m telling you to do ).
Of course my favorite character is Dora. She’s independent, she’s the holder of Jenny’s and Maurice’s secrets. When Dora is hauled into the station with other blondes who are suspects, she sits stone-faced as she faces a cabbie who can possibly identify her. She doesn’t look indignant, she doesn’t feign flirtatiousness, she doesn’t look scared. She just looks straight on. And the Inspector. Inspector Antoine is also my favorite for his doggedness. He will not be put off. And he’s funny in a droll Frenchy kind of way.
Clouzot doesn’t beat us over the head with things. Very subtly he shows us:
- Dora’s tears when she sees Maurice and Jenny have made up, once again.
- Inspector Antoine kissing his sleeping son goodbye. Or being told that his son has failed his Geometry exams.
- Does Maurice suspect Dora’s feelings towards his wife? I’m not quite sure. Aaaaah but then again he’s French; he probably does but doesn’t feel threatened. Besides, Dora is his confidante…there’s a healthy respect Maurice and Dora have for each other, even if they are ( sort of ) rivals for Jenny’s affections.
Clouzot does a masterful job showing me o’ what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to take the fall for someone we love.
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And I’d like to take this time to say THANK YOU to the judges of the #CRITERION BLOGATHON for awarding me not only Day 2’s selection for most humorous blog post on the second day of the blogathon BUT its BEST IN SHOW award for having the most humorous blog post of the blogathon. I’m flattered and honored!!! 🙂
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This blogathon ain’t over until it’s over. As the blogathon continues I’ll link up access to the other great entries for Criterion for each day. Just click on any of these banners.
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DAY THREE ~ NOVEMBER 18th 2015
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( H O M E )