Le Sang des bêtes
A certain wistful, silly, “romantic” notion dispelled.
The horse, the cow, calves, sheep, slaughtered and butchered professionally “at the gates of Paris”.
A sure foundation for some of Herzog’s ironies.
“L’Héautontimorouménos” for an epigraph.
Hôtel des Invalides
Where the gravely wounded go, after France’s wars.
Franju has very little of this, owing to necessity.
He takes a tour of the Army Museum, from suits of armor to World War I, casualty numbers there.
St.-Louis-des-Invalides, where the soldiers pray.
Their children singing as they depart.
La Première Nuit
L’amour à dix ans, “et la séparation.”
Jacob’s ladder, an escalator in the Métro.
Two trains that pass in the night, score by Georges Delerue.
La tête contre les murs
A Dantean view of mental illness. Dr. Valmont’s psychiatric hospital is a living hell, Dr. Emery has all three levels in his.
But the punchline is from Kafka, especially as analyzed by Welles in The Trial.
And so much for the problems of maladjusted youth, with a hundred endings possible and only one indicated.
Striking score by Maurice Jarre.
Les Yeux sans Visage
A metaphor of the Occupation.
The roots of Les Yeux sans Visage are in Hollywood and fairly evident. The opening scene pays homage to Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly, and also prepares Dr. Génessier’s lecture on heterografting by radiation and exsanguination.
The doctor is taken from a Robert McKimson cartoon featuring Bugs Bunny (Hot Cross Bunny), which drew him from a Three Stooges short directed by Edward Bernds (A Bird in the Head). There is probably an earlier avatar.
The second most striking thing about Franju is the bariolage of his style. Delicate night photography, day exteriors like Henri Cartier-Bressons and André Kertészs projected on the screen, occur amidst straightforward dramatics in all manner of styles, from Dreyer to Welles. This gives him great flexibility, like a boxer’s stance. Each shot is unmodulated, states itself, and hies to the next one.
Dr. Génessier has disfigured his daughter in a car wreck, and now kidnaps girls to supply her with a replacement face. She wears a pretty mask without coloration, and Maurice Jarre has a very pretty waltz to accompany her walk down the corridor, looking like the model for Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby. Pondering her condition, she looks up at a bland painting of a woman with doves, an empty and superficial painting.
Meanwhile, Franju gives you incomparable views of Paris and environs, just a setup and a few hundred frames, that’s it. A very novelistic treatment of description, without moving the camera, even. Very informative.
Nothing vague about him, he pounces on his moment. When the first girl is chloroformed, he records her last look at consciousness. The bland portrait is prepared by having a good one in the background of another scene.
The doctor’s dogs are kenneled in two rows of ironwork cages, forming a shot like the galley of The Magic Christian. The surgery was certainly the inspiration of Larry Peerce’s Ash Wednesday, with the face besieged by hemostats like Gulliver in Lilliput.
Subtle touches in the sound are another hallmark, as the sound of the dogs heard from the garage or just outside the house, or the sound of a body being dumped in a cemetery vault, evoking a poem by Robert Frost.
Another painter of doves, Picasso, figures as background in one scene. There are nuances of The Island of Dr. Moreau. As the second girl is waylaid, signs reading SURGERY and PROSTHESIS and ORTHOPEDICS can be seen behind her. A joke echoed by Godard has a nurse repeatedly requesting her to open and close her eyes in a test.
A crackpot he may be, but the doctor is displayed as a medical man of feeling, after his fashion, weary and sad.
A fine bit of detective work brings the matter to a head. The doctor’s daughter kills his assistant (Alida Valli, superb), sets free the sacrificial victim, and sics the dogs on her father. She walks into the night with her pet doves flying about her.
Pleins feux sur l’assassin
Death of a Knight of Malta, “Funérailles d’antan”, among menhirs.
Behind the opening credits, approach to the castle by water.
The stunning effect of the disparition is a complete analysis of Cocteau (Orphée).
One of Maurice Jarre’s great Franju scores.
A son et lumière on the lovers in the castle, to defray expenses while awaiting the discovery of the body.
Among the heirs, another complete analysis.
La Bête’s voice is heard over the tourist loudspeakers, an owl saves the day like Judex.
The assassin strikes again, until the bright lights hit him, and a bullet in the leg.
A supreme work of the French cinema, like Les Yeux sans Visage (and no doubt La tête contre les murs) a satirical view of the Occupation (cf. Clément’s Jeux interdits).
The young provincial girl has a crush on the blonde next door and marries the blonde’s brother to be near her, there follows a tale of resistance and suffering and finally liberation, in Paris.
Bosley Crowther’s priceless New York Times review ends this way, “the context of the drama is neither sufficiently sympathetic nor moral to justify and render endurable the long time it takes to unfold.”
The murdering blackmailing plundering banker Favraux must be punished mercilessly.
His honest daughter forgoes her inheritance, melting the heart of Judex.
And so begins the second, mirror plot. The governess, now discharged, plots to secure the basis of Favraux’s power and fortune.
The superb key is from Fantômas, the two nuns and the empty coffin.
Score by Jarre, pictures by Fradetal, the gift of Feuillade.
The astounding story of the princess who wanted to help the wounded in 1914 and the general’s nephew “whose name was an open sesame at the Ministry of War.”
“How much time does it take war to eat a town?”
Il s’agit d’un tout petit village. “Qu’est-ce que vous dites?”
Naval ships Fantômas, Mort Subite.
Rostand, verses. La Marseillaise, “unh, je ne connais pas ça...”
As Mallarmé says, “un astre, en vérité...”
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “blandly sardonic and tedious”.
Variety, “offbeat, worldly commentary on war.”
Time Out, “compulsive, and utterly absorbing.”
La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret
If there were no France, it would have to be invented for this film, in which a young cleric out in the wilds of post-Revolutionary Empire (Louis Napoleon) rurality makes his way “as happy as God in France.”
Truffaut has the trick of this in his least-regarded film, La Chambre verte. From Melville’s Léon Morin, Prêtre to Dmytryk’s The Reluctant Saint is another progression.
Vincent Canby at his huffiest and most fatuous cited “a series of wrong decisions that began with Mr. Franju’s desire to make the movie... a mixture of social realism and Walt Disney” (Zola too is blameworthy, “whose occasional flights into a kind of naturalized romanticism haven’t worn well”), he saw it as The Demise of Father Mouret (New York Times).
A major analysis of Pleins feux sur l’assassin in Eastmancolor, right from the opening scene in the Marets du Temple (the verses on this map read,
the city makes this world redundant
herein find a burgeoning world
with peoples and with goods unfurled
that in everything’s abundant).
“Non nobis”, reads the shield of the Knight Templar, not too distantly recalling Olivier’s Henry V.
“That old wheeze,” laughs aged faux Mademoiselle Ermance in the backroom of her shop, Au Bonheur des Dames, when the Knight’s penurious valet mentions the Order’s treasure.
Below the shop, Le Visage sans Yeux, or what’s mine is yours, surgically brain-dead assassins.
Ermance flips her wig and dons her mask, red, she is a man.
Inspector Kras is Commissaire Sorbier (Gert Froebe), superintendent in the subtitles.
Franju is responsible for the “conception musicale” and of course the greatly amusing sound track in general, an element not or not entirely in Feuillade’s hands (Franju shoots in widescreen).
A London pub for Des Esseintes. A story “so confusing that Sorbier suspects everyone.” A brutal, delicate nightmare.
Séraphin Beauminon the Parnassian dick, the Percy Dovetonsils of detectives, has his virtues.
The wreck of the Sancta Maria off the coast of America in 1297 with gold for the Crusades. “The shallows exist...” A golden key, “non nobis Domine”.
Another disguise is the spitting image of Jay Novello, the American actor (Gayle Hunnicutt is a vicious homicidal henchwoman).
Absolute genius. “Three medallions, three wax seals... the key to the secret of this famous treasure,” to be regarded “in a symbolic form, naturally.”
An army, a labor force, a citizenry of vegetables in opposition, surgically-created “robot men” ruled by “great minds”.
In fact, gray faceless hairless men with red armbands marching leadenly in rags to kill, commanded by a red-masked thief and murderer.
The auction of the “wax seals” and other effects in the Knight’s estate. “L’Homme sans visage”, even the dowsing from Pleins feux sur l’assassin.
A fool’s errand, the villain’s quest, a trap laid by the Paris police.
“Alchemical gold,” medallion, key, ciborium, “slightly radioactive.”
St. Patrick’s Crypt, “Archæological Remains” where Professor Petrie, an eccentric little Englishman, is assassinated for his part in the trap.
Au Clairon de Sidi Brahim, the enemy lair at 13, Rue Fantôme. The Knights Templar launch a raid, the police clean up.
Mademoiselle Ermance closes her shop and departs, with her niece.
“Hugely beguiling”, in Time Out Film Guide’s words.