Watched Pierre Chenal’s L’ALIBI as I’m on a Chenal kick. Not sure yet whether he’s stylish and fun or something better.
L’ALIBI has Erich Von Stroheim as a mindreader/gangster called Professor Winckler — he shoots a rival in the face and then turns up at the apartment of poor-but-honest dance hall hostess Jany Holt — he offers her a wad of money to claim he spent the night, and she accepts, much against her better judgement.
Enter police chief Louis Jouvet, as mercurial and dolorous as ever, but much, much slicker in appearance than his flic role for Clouzot in QUAI DES ORFEVRES. Holt is now getting grilled by the cops and threatened by Stroheim. And now enter Albert Prejean, a likable drunkard who falls for Jany and also becomes the cops’ top suspect. Will our girl crack under the pressure? Will the villainous Dr Winckler try to silence her first?
Pleasures include Von’s broken French, which leads him to monologue in English for protracted periods, and so we get a rare audio-snatch of Jouvet speaking the Queen’s tongue — quite well. He could have been a star in Hollywood but he didn’t need to; then there’s Von’s spooky telepathy clinic, complete with oriental assistant Fun-Sen (who had a pretty cool career, working with Ophuls, Siodmak, Carne, Pabst, and Tourneur Snr); and there’s the set-bound artificiality of it all, a noirish fist clenched around actors until Prejean arrives with a sudden gust of exterior locations.
Interesting to contrast Prejean, a casual collaborator with the visiting Germans a few years later (not that he seems to have been political, he just didn’t see any reason not to shake any hands that were proffered) with Jany Holt, a Romanian emigré at this point married to Marcel Dalio, who would become a covert resistance hero and win the Croix de Guerre from General de Gaulle. She’s slim and brittle like a glass sculpture, impossibly chic and altogether alluring. And she has a way of holding her mouth when she’s thinking, bared teeth which don’t quite meet to form a grin, suggesting the pensive state of a bite not taken, that’s very Jean Arthur.