Intertitle of the Week: Let ‘x’ equal ‘x’

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Despite my Duvivier advocacy, I hadn’t heard a thing about LE MYSTERE DE LA TOUR EIFFEL until it turned up as a download and I grabbed it. What a treat! Duvivier in playful mode, pastiching Feulliade and Lang in a serial-style caper involving impersonations, disguises, abductions, escapes, secret societies and Siamese twins? What could be better to get me in the mood for the MoMA retrospective (this movie isn’t screening in it — such are the riches in the Duvivier canon, a whole month isn’t enough time to programme them all).

Plot — apart from the Ku Klux Eiffel, a secret society operating out of a sinister castle and the Eiffel Tower — there’s this Siamese Twin dance act, not actual Siamese, or conjoined, or twins, or in fact related, but look-a-likes who dance side by side. When one of them comes into an inheritance (1957 million francs, a tidy sum) the other impersonates him and claims it. But his dastardly act does not go unpunished, as his windfall attracts the attention of the KKE, who start persecuting him, even in his sleep ~

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The impostor hatches a devilish plan, hiring the true heir to impersonate him for eight days, assuming that in this time the Klan will kill him. To make their job easier, he warns the true heir that, while he is carrying out his masquerade, he may be subjected to practical jokes by a few friends. Now, like Bill Murray in THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE, our hapless hero is primed to laugh in the face of danger, simply because he doesn’t recognise it. Also, he’s in the unusual position of impersonating a man impersonating himself. He’s posing as himself and he doesn’t even know it.

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What follows is great fun, although there’s nothing to compete with the insane early sequence in which radio broadcasts of popular music from the Eiffel Tower are interrupted by coded signals from the KKE, an effect Duvivier attempts to represent in visual form, with frenetic cutting and strobing intertitles. The castle HQ, with gratuitous labyrinth, throne-room and futurist laboratory, is an impressive Evil Empire, and from there we rush pell-mell to the great tower itself, for a gobsmacking final running battle amid the girders, shot without benefit of special effects. Not for the nervous ~

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The shuttling back and forth between Paris and the mountainous castle makes me think of THE DA VINCI CODE, another tale of secret societies, and this Cathar connection also brought to mind Theodore Roszak’s paranoid cine-fantasy novel Flicker. And when the same symbols from the KKE’s coded message started flashing up on the screen around the reel changes, it made me think of Roszak’s concept of the underfilm, subliminal messages woven into the warp and woof of the celluloid to sterilize mankind and bring about eschaton.

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And it all somehow ties in, in my mind, with Duvivier’s death at the wheel of his car, 40 years after making this film.

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8 Responses to “Intertitle of the Week: Let ‘x’ equal ‘x’”

  1. Christopher Says:

    Ku KLUX Eiffel..well now I’ve seen everything…THis does look interesting..That second pic from the top with the attack of the Garden Gnomes in shadow, is gonna give me nightmares..

  2. It’s a great scene, with the chap tossing in his delirium in the bed at screen right, with his dream projected in shadowplay on the screen/wall — klansmen attacking him with giant hammer and tongs!

  3. mark williams Says:

    Where did you find the download?

  4. A site called Karagarga.

  5. John Seal Says:

    Besides becoming a must-see, this looks like it would make a great double bill partner for Man on Wire.

  6. The next thing I watched was The 39 Steps, which also features someone clambering about on a massive Victorian iron structure. But the most obvious match would be Rene Clair’s The Crazy Ray, another Eiffelian fantasy from the ’20s. In that one, Paris is frozen in time by a sci-fi device aimed from the top of the tower…

  7. David, I’ve been scanning your blog for the next use of a Laurie Anderson song title. Are there prizes?

    Roszak’s “Flicker” was a fascinating cine-book. It’s a small sub-genre; Thomson’s “Suspects”, Southern’s “Blue Movie”, Condon’s “Film” (!?). There must be more.

  8. I was hoping this would catch your eye!

    Lots of books on cinematic themes, not so many good ones. Tim Lucas’s Throat Sprockets is one I hope to get around to. And there’s actually a crime series in which Alfred Hitchcock is the detective.

    I haven’t read the Condon, that sounds potentially intriguing.

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