The Films of Henri-Georges Clouzot
The Murderer Lives at 21 (August 6/03)
This early effort by noted French director Henri-Georges Clouzot (Les diaboliques, The Wages of Fear) contains none of the suspense and black humor that he became well-known for. The story, involving the exploits of an undercover cop and his efforts to track down a killer, is incredibly routine and banal - while the performances are too over-the-top to really be effective. The so-called comic relief, which comes in the form of dialogue that's trying way too hard to sound clever, is probably the weakest element of the film and serves only to annoy the audience. The movie plays like one of those early talkies, with broad performances and an overly simplistic storyline. The only redeeming aspect of The Murderer Lives at 21 is the revelation of the killer's identity, which (admittedly) I didn't see coming. Still, there's a reason this one's never been available on home video...
Quai des Orfèvres
The Wages of Fear
Les diaboliques (April 27/03)
Though it's almost 50 years old, Les diaboliques packs more surprises and thrills than most contemporary movies that claim to do the same. The movie, which details the murderous happenings within an all-boys private school, perfectly defines the term "slow build." Director Henri-Georges Clouzot takes his time in setting up the story and indeed, it's around the 30-minute mark before anything of substance happens. Prior to that, the film does a nice job of establishing the characters and makes it clear that Paul Meurisse's Michel is someone worth hating. He's a tyrannical sort that rules through fear and intimidation, berating his employees and smacking his wife (Vera Clouzot's Christina), so he's certainly not someone we feel sorry for when he eventually gets his comeuppance. But, more than anything else, Les diaboliques is a thriller. Though there are sporadic moments of dark humor (including the fate of poor schoolboy Moinet, who keeps insisting that he's talked to Michel), the film works best as a suspenseful and occasionally creepy nail-biter. Clouzot, who co-wrote the screenplay, does a fantastic job of infusing the majority of the film with a real sense of dread and foreboding. Aside from sequences that are inherently suspenseful (the drowning of Michel, for example), Clouzot manages to turn seemingly uneventful moments into surprisingly tense fodder. Like Hitchcock, Clouzot delights in tormenting the audience - withholding vital secrets until the last possible second, while the screws are tightened more and more. Les diaboliques doesn't move a mile-a-minute, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The film requires patience, and rewards the viewer with some incredibly satisfying moments and a twist ending that's almost impossible to guess.
Le mystère Picasso