L’Assassin habite... au 21

A door that opens by itself, a drunk made rich by opening a door, the superb beginning of an Occupation masterpiece.

Brilliant, brutal, elegant, careless. It is certainly a simple matter of murders signed with a carte de visite. A name is what you need to succeed, Monsieur Durand knocks ‘em dead.

It falls to a police inspector, it is kicked downstairs and into his lap.

He is not a tueur sans gages, Monsieur Durand, he robs his victims.

Les Mimosas, pension de famille, 21, Avenue Junot. It’s Montmartre, the sacred and profane aspects of which are somehow expressed in a manuscript returned to one of the boarders.

In a chiffonier in the attic, the calling cards.

The inspector, undercover as a man of the cloth, “c’est bien normal.”

Another of the boarders is a magician, not things that are seen but things unseen, eternal things, these one must keep one’s eye on, the policeman-pastor explains.

“I try to help men work out their salvation.” Pierre Fresnay, in a film very much like Quai des Orfèvres, from the same author.

Murderous wind-up toys, things that pouf disappear, a blind boxer, a boarder who has “beaucoup vécu aux colonies,” Dr. Linz.

“How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.”

How do you beat rejection notices? With a roman policier, “a vampire from Dusseldorf.”

It’s all done by “disintegration of matter” (cf. Woody Allen’s Scoop).

The whistling manservant, a music-hall act under the name Armand.

The Axis (“Beethoven’s Piano Trio, Op. 3, No. 11”).

“An engaging serio-comic thriller... moderately ingenious... fantastical” (Tom Milne, Time Out Film Guide).


Le Corbeau

The grand hallucination is accomplished in Clouzot’s most perfect style, witty and articulate in matters most glancingly revealed to be most serious. The situation off-camera is the Nazi Occupation, he finds an emblem for this plight, the scurrilously calumniated author, poet and critic Edgar Allan Poe, and devotes himself to that no less obliquely than the title and emblem of “The Raven”.

The structure is very intensely organized in successive planes, a main sequence is Madame Vorzet-Marie-Denise-Rolande (the old man’s young wife, the bitter nurse, the limping nympho, the thieving schoolgirl), the film noir chiaroscuro is tied to constant shiftings of motion and purpose in the action like refracted light in gloom, and yet the small-town sensibility is a droll and pleasant contrast.

The Occupation film company Continental is said to have been created for anodyne French productions, at which Clouzot was the ideal failure.

Annabel Lee and the lost Lenore, also “a demon in my view” and the sad emblem of the war, a frustrated young woman whose plan of attack swells monstrously around its central object to consume a whole town.

The influence of the film is incalculable, at least partly owing to the ban, and extends at least to Russell’s The Devils and Altman’s Gosford Park.


Quai des Orfèvres

Quai des Orfèvres is formally divided into two parts, a Perry Mason murder and a Columbo investigation. The cæsura is a beautiful pause and a great discovery.

It begins in Tin Pan Alley (Paris) and moves to the Folies Eden, then to a photographer’s studio, and finally the lodgings of a wealthy collector. The second part introduces police headquarters.

You will find in the books, doubtless, a sterling analysis of the American films from which Clouzot developed a style of ebullience (Van Dyke’s Thin Man and Wellman’s Lady of Burlesque seem related, as well as Hitchcock’s Murder!), but it may be more to the point to know what films Clouzot did not see during the war and immediately after, especially The Big Sleep, to which there is a very remote connection in Chandler’s idea of the detective story as a representation.

Part 1 with its obsessive jealousies corresponds to the Occupation, and Part 2 to postwar France. Thus, the murder is evidently precipitated by the starlet’s desire to obtain a movie contract from the victim, who is threatened by her husband (a songwriter). Inspector Antoine has been a staff sergeant in the Foreign Legion (an amazing look from Jouvet as he tells this), advises a criminal suspect to try his luck in the colonies, and himself has a young son of apparently African descent. The boy, and malaria, are all he has to show for 15 years overseas, he says.

A police lineup of blondes smiling variously is repeated in Beat the Devil. At the end, Clouzot makes fun of Cocteau by emulating the famous snowball fight. A well-choreographed (as you might say) venture into the American-style press corps on Christmas Eve at the stationhouse opens with a joke (“I’m the one with the turkey”) and modulates into Charles Dickens.

The opening sequence is a pellucid bit of foundation photography (backlit from the side) for the Hollywood lighting that follows.

The cast are all brilliant, and then there is Louis Jouvet, who around this time was onstage in Giraudoux, Claudel, Genêt and Molière. He invents Lieutenant Columbo (he needs a notebook because his memory is “like a sieve”... early on he has “lost his raincoat”), and at the end all but says “one more thing,” which as it turns out is “just routine.”

The “artiste” in part one becomes Barnivel, who introduced the inspector to the charms of Sunday photography, having murdered his own family and then photographed them all in their beds. “Ah! C’était un artiste!”

The influence of Picasso and Matisse is in evidence, perhaps, with the former’s Rue de la Santé evoked as Martineau goes to confront the victim, and the latter’s female portraits seeming to be the underpinnings of Clouzot’s in a very subtle way.



Clouzot’s opera (music Paul Misraki), set at the time of filming.

“If I’d stayed and sold cigarettes in Clermont-Ferrand, I wouldn’t be in this mess.”

Jews for Palestine, a murderer on the run and his girl, the title character, aboard a freighter...

Behind the Americans in Normandy. Une collabo. Murdered hostages. An utterly amazing work, Grand Prix at Venice out of sheer exhaustion and bedazzlement, more than likely.

Her face in a basin of holy water shaped like a seashell in a bombed-out cathedral, smiling. Air raid. Escape to the countryside. PARIS EST DÉLIVRÉ” (l’aube). Arrival at the capital. “Every woman is available, you need a bed of lettuce.”

Clouzot’s theme, “the big postwar rat race.” Sciuscià, The Third Man (the Major is a breath of American comedy).

The cinema at the Porte Saint-Martin (Le Magic, featuring Spencer Gordon Bennet’s Avenging Waters). Scarface (Frankenheimer remembers the locked office with its fan aboard the flagship of Seven Days in May).

Except for the Nabucco chorus in the hold, nobody sings, of course (cf. Wyler’s The Letter). A crowded postwar train (cf. Thorpe’s The Thin Man Goes Home). It’s the stylistic point in question, after all, these things are better faced operatically, or call it “a modern-dress staging”.

Arrival in Palestine. Wandering in the desert, the promised land, Manon at the oasis. “Chéri,” she calls out to Robert Desgrieux, “this place is like paradise.”

“What do you know about paradise?”

“I know it from the pictures in the Bible.”

Custer’s Last Stand. Death of Manon. Across the ideally feminine desert he lugs her body to a forest of pricks and buries her in the sand against jackals, his terrible confession. Death of Desgrieux.

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times could not see what it had to do with anything, but noted a certain amount of “humor and viciousness” and wrote, “it is for these aspects, we imagine, that this picture received the grand prize at the Venice Film Festival.”

Halliwell’s Film Guide, “oddball”, citing Penelope Houston, “clever... but without depth of feeling.”


Le Salaire de la peur

The interesting construction leads up to a punchline that undermines it as an Existentialist fantasy. Throw in Bimba’s story, and you can have practically a joke on collaboration.

The opening is splendidly sordid, but that’s not the game either. A beautiful exterior with the plane coming in is sorted among the deck fairly indifferently, with its echo of Casablanca.

Howard W. Koch directed a remake, Violent Road, in which Brian Keith is met at the end by Merry Anders in a convertible. L’amour et la mort...


Les Diaboliques

The mistress and the wife do the bastard in, all for naught as it turns out, in the grand masterpiece on this subject.

The English dub (as Diabolique) is not to be missed on any account, particularly as it almost certainly has cast Wilfrid Lawson as the police inspector, retired.

The irresistible sense of humor displayed, or rather held close to the vest till the hand is played, in The Wages of Fear, couldn’t let pass this Grand Guignol object lesson, with its metamorphosing sense of fear and trembling.


Le Mystère Picasso

Picasso’s steady brush assigns to a quadrant some initiatory diagrams, which alluded to in another gradually develop into Scheherazade, for example.

Or, he takes you into the city, in a manner of speaking, and shows you all around the “blank care” endlessly scraped and rescraped like an ancient palimpsest or corrida, where the glorious eventualities are eventually stabilized.


les espions

Of the right and left, whose game is ultimate destruction.

A simple discussion about rising prices in a bar one evening.

The hero runs a psychiatric clinic with two patients, a drunk and the girl the doctor loves, “divine aphasia”.

The government will make him rich if he participates, both sides converge on the clinic, spying.

It ends long in advance of Coppola’s The Conversation on a famous joke (Valéry had installed a telephone, very proud he was of it, the demonstration provoked Degas’ remark, “so that’s the telephone, it rings and you run”).

Halliwell’s Film Guide says, “not one of its director’s successes.”


La Vérité

Truffaut was surely right in his review, the young would never recognize themselves in this film, and the reason is that Clouzot’s portrait is so accurate.

Collegiates, Conservatory students, and a girl on the Left Bank. It’s all rather suspended, provisional, and not of any consequence in itself. That is the point, to render a film without art, with no conjunction or interest of any kind, to isolate the poles, separate the elements, let nothing come of it, “the case presents no adjunct to the Muses’ diadem.”

For youth is just as boring as anything else, taken as an end in itself.


Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67
Ludwig van Beethoven

Rhetoric is satisfied in the first, rhetoricians the second. Will it hold (fun while it lasts)? Why, of course, counterpoint and ballistics are much the same sort of study (third and fourth).

Herbert von Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic.


La Prisonnière

Undoubtedly the major work of interest to Skolimowski in The Shout. The sheer perfection of his style is useful to Clouzot, he can film what he wants to film “in all weathers”, so to speak. That is to say, by devoting himself to its demands (the fishing line under a bridge a whizzing car passes over) he finds doggedly he has room to spare for virtuosity, when he wants to depict the artist at work visualizing the cityscape around him, so that goes back into the cinematography. What the artist sees he shows you, and him sketching a formulation as well.

Kinetic Art for the masses, impressively so described for the Press by the dealer. The artist and the Press, his girl and the dealer, a photographer under the sign of Bellmer and Dubuffet.

Turnabout for “L’Envie” (dir. Rossellini), with a can opener for Beckett in How It Is. Posture of the Press, of the artist. Singularity of the hobbyist, the dealer is on the business end, heavily invested.

Artist and model, director and actress (cf. Aldrich’s The Legend of Lylah Clare). To be there on the rocks, with waves breaking all around, sure of existing.

“Hotel de France Restaurant” after the storm, “Rembrandt, El Greco, Van Gogh, Cézanne.”

With reference to Anna Karenina, the conclusion.

For the Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “French import about a woman who finds herself first intrigued by, and then hopelessly attracted to an art dealer (Laurent Terzieff) who proves to be a sadistic voyeur incapable of love. Director Henri-Georges Clouzot affects a detached, noncommittal attitude toward his subject, forcing viewers to share the voyeurism which his characters are experiencing,” and classified as “morally offensive”.

Dan Pavlides (Rovi) was quite overcome, “yikes!”