Archive for Bernard Blier

Behind the Crime Scenes

Posted in FILM, literature, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 3, 2015 by dcairns

Two French thrillers with theatrical backgrounds, watched in succession with the connections emerging accidentally —

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Despite appearances, Fernandel is not actually going to eat the small, yapping dog.

First, Julien Duvivier’s 1957 comedy L’HOMME A L’IMPERMEABLE (THE MAN IN THE RAINCOAT — but how much better is the term “impermeable”!). This was Duvivier’s third Fernandel vehicle, after the first installments in the popular DON CAMILLO series, which Fernandel kept going until his death, but this one is based on Tiger by the Tail, a James Hadley Chase potboiler, just like RETOUR A MANIVELLE, which I recently enjoyed. Odd how a British writer who made his name ripping off American crime fiction using only a dictionary of slang and a road map (and, of course, a dog-eared copy of Faulkner’s Sanctuary) should find his greatest movie success in France, the semi-convincing Americana semi-convincingly transplanted across both the Atlantic and the English Channel (Chereau’s THE FLESH OF THE ORCHID being the prime example.)

Movie details the travails of a married clarinetist suddenly left alone when his wife leaves to nurse a dying relative. Ironically, the relative will recover but boatloads of other principal characters and walk-ons get offed, as the mild-mannered musician is tempted towards infidelity with a chorine from the theatre, and this leads inevitably, with WOMAN IN THE WINDOW logic, to homicide.

With “the face of a murderer,” Fernandel is immediately a suspect, and while avoiding being identified he tries to locate the real killer, assisted by a giggling blackmailer with a small yapping dog.

I thought with L’AUBERGE ROUGE, your basic hilarious masterpiece, that I’d finally warmed to Fernandel, he of the equine visage, but now I find that, away from the rigorous direction of Autant-Lara, which F did not care for one bit, he seems limited again, not only mugging quite a bit, but mugging in the same way each time. We know from the earlier film that his amazing melting-taffy face can be made to assume all kinds of funhouse mirror contortions, like a Basil Woolverton cartoon made (saggy) flesh, so it’s odd to see it settling into a few stock positions and leaving it at that. Still, I have to admit his timing is excellent and the timorous would-be philanderer becomes quite sympathetic as his nightmare situation endlessly intensifies.

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The real star of the show is Bernard Blier as the repellant little man who’s threatening to expose Fernandel if he can’t find anyone better to extort from. Blier was typically solemn as the third-act detective inspector in MANIVELLE, but here he throws off the dour habit of a lifetime to play a tittering creep with a full beard that gives his bald head an upside down appearance, and a seedy overcoat that flares out like a garden gnome’s smock.

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Up is down, black is white.

That inverted appearance is reflected in the scene where F discovers his first corpse, shot in the ceiling mirror of the tart’s boudoir, making the whole thing vertiginous and hallucinatory. What the movie lacks in belly-laughs (Duvivier shoots too close and cuts too fast, like many dramatically gifted filmmakers trying slapstick) it makes up for in a kind of comic anxiety which keeps escalating. This is what Polanski’s FRANTIC should have been like.

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LES INTRIGANTES is from 1954, and directed by all-rounder Henri Decoin. Most interesting today for featuring Jeanne Moreau in a meaty supporting role, it’s an unusual thriller in which the one death is an accident which occurs before the action begins, and the biggest crime is a false accusation which makes theatre boss Raymond Rouleau a murder suspect. Moreau plays his wife, and the film’s best moments revolve around her — she starts out as a very positive character, loyal and supportive. As her husband is driven into hiding by the covert campaign against him, she starts running the show on his behalf, and her power and competence emerge in conjunction with an affair with her husband’s persecutor. The movie condemns her, and seems to equate her abilities in the workplace with her sinister infidelity — but it doesn’t altogether condemn her: there’s no comeuppance.

As a director, Decoin seems to be mainly interested in legs — although he also gives us a subliminal flash of the Moreau bosom when baddie Raymond Pellegrin (very creepy) rips her dress off, which is apparently part of his infallible Gallic seduction technique (which also includes face-slapping and framing her husband — how can he go wrong?). But there are some very effective scenes, especially with all the lurking in theatre corridors.

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Raymond Rouleau has aged fairly well at this point, having lost the matinee idol/mannequin looks he sported in the forties. With his sports jacket and polo neck sweater, he looks a bit like the older Jacques Tati. Etchika Cherou is very cute and touching as the secretary who yearns for him, and Louis de Funes is well used in a supporting role that exploits his querulous, blinky schtick without overdosing us. Also, he seems less annoying with vestigial hair. Possibly because I didn’t initially recognise him and so didn’t get immediately put off.

Both movies had a paranoid atmosphere, full of anonymous denunciation and persecution, which made me think they were recycling anxieties from the Occupation, though perhaps that’s stretching.

The Chauffeur Always Honks Twice

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2015 by dcairns

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RETOUR DE MANIVELLE is a French adaptation of a James Hadley Chase novel — apart from changing a few names, esteemed scenarist Michel Audiard doesn’t seem to have Europeanized it much, even leaving rich drunk Peter Van Eyck’s Cadillac unchanged. Even in French, the origins of Chase’s story are obvious enough — the James M. Cain “love rack” structure, in which a wild love affair is used as motor for an escalating suspense thriller. But Chase has come up with some ideas of his own, including an insurance scam involving the triangle of unwanted husband, scheming wife and dopey hero which DOESN’T actually include a murder. That *is* unusual.

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Without getting into second act spoilers, I can say that Van Eyck devises an improbably scheme to torment his cheating wife — he blows his brains out, leaving a vast insurance policy which doesn’t come into effect until the following day, and which specifically excludes suicide, So, in order to claim, icy hotwife Michele Morgan and horny chauffeur Daniel Gelin have to conceal the death, preserve the body, and then fake the suicide to look like murder (no chance of making the bullet to the skull look like an accident). This is complicated by sweet young Michele Mercier and third-act detective inspector Bernard Blier, who is awfully good value. His smart working cop has a clever answer for every occasion, but is continually led up the garden path by all the manufactured evidence strewn in his way, with ultimately black irony. Gelin, who I mainly knew as the young lover in LA RONDE (and for being Maria Schneider’s estranged father), is very effective in  tougher role.

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But it’s Morgan’s film — she excels at coldbloodedness, as she always does, but what really chills the marrow is when she acts sweet — because she plays it so convincingly, despite our knowing it’s all fake. She could give Robin Wright lessons in House of Cards, which is saying a great deal. She’s accompanied by a sculpted torso, a gleaming reminder of how the men in her life have objectified her, and is able to make the character both terrifying and, in a feminist light, sympathetic or at least understandable.

Unfortunately, as far as I could tell the plot ceases to make sense in the third act. Given the improbable set-up (“We are not concerned with whether the thing WOULD be done, only if it COULD be done,” said fictional detective Dr. Gideon Fell), everything has been just about plausible until then, so it’s a shame. But it does deliver us into the right emotional place, which counts for plenty.

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Directed by Denis de la Patilliere, with some low-key sexual frankness, expressive use of depopulated frames and a relish for the white, palatial and underfurnished mansion where most of the intrigue takes place. He had a long life and career and was predictably loathed by the Nouvelle Vague.