Archive for Charles Spaak

Love and War

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on February 9, 2012 by dcairns

“And a little… person shall lead them.” Louis Jouvet and friend in LA KERMESSE HEROIQUE, directed by Jacques Feyder from a story by Charles Spaak — a beautiful, uncomfortable film, currently under discussion over at The Daily Notebook, as the subject of this week’s edition of The Forgotten.

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Black Forest Gateau

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2010 by dcairns

Or do I mean “chateau”?

Duvivier time! LA CHAMBRE ARDENTE — THE BURNING COURT — from a novel by John Dickson Carr, master of the locked room mystery — has very little reputation, and it doesn’t quite gel in a plot-character-theme way, but it has some set-piece scenes that are as fine as anything in JD’s oeuvre (French for egg) — a misty nocturnal exhumation; an open casket funeral with guests waltzing round the deceased; an arboreal chase scene. Working with usual collaborator Charles Spaak, JD unpicks much of Carr’s plotting, and the impossible crime at the story’s centre (a figure in period dress is seen administering a fatal glass of eggnog before vanishing through a wall) is actually pretty easy to guess a solution to — but the film’s ending is still a dark surprise. A few characters do seem to be cut adrift by the narrative reworking, with a bland pipe-smoking hero particularly useless to the story.

The film this most resembles is Franju’s PLEINS FEUX SUR L’ASSASSIN, with its ancient country house setting, historical murder backstory, hints of the supernatural. Duvivier even has regular Franju collab Edith Scob on hand, lending her masklike beauty to the eerie going-on, along with the glamorous Nadja Tiller and the always-welcome spannerlike face of Helena Manson, a nasty nurse in Clouzot’s LE CORBEAU.

Curious parties are recommended to Carr’s The Hollow Man AKA The Three Coffins, which features two impossible crimes, one of which has a dazzlingly brilliant solution, and also a chapter in which overweight ‘tec Dr. Gideon Fell lays out all the possible solutions to the locked-room genre, simultaneously thrusting the answers to the mysteries at hand under our noses, and whisking them away before we figure things out.

Here are some of Carr’s crimes —

In The Hollow Man, witnesses in a snowy street hear a cry of “The next bullet is for you!” followed by a gunshot. Turning, they find a man slain in the middle of the road, a pistol lying some distance from the body. Nobody else is around, and no footprints except the victim’s are found in the snow, yet examination shows he was shot at extremely close range…

In The Sleeping Sphinx, I think it is, a crypt is found where tremendously heavy coffins have been moved about at random, and no footprints mar the smooth sand on the floor. This mystery has little to do with any crime, but it’s fun.

There’s one in which a curse predicts that a man will be stabbed with an awl. He turns up dead, a small round puncture wound in his body, no visible weapon, and he’s in a locked room with only a metal grille offer any access to the outside world, and the grille is too high for the victim to have reached…

In The Judas Window, a luckless hero is found unconscious with a dead man who’s been impaled through the chest by a crossbow bolt, seemingly from a high angle. Locked room. No accessible windows, hidden doors or usable chimney. Although the title is a clue.

Can you find the solutions? Everything is as I’ve told you, pretty much, with no secret entrances or supernatural gimmicks.

The End of Their Day

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2008 by dcairns

Truffaut once told Marcel Carné that Carné’s LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS was worth more than his own entire oeuvre. Carné replied, “It’s a shame you’re not a critic anymore.”

The reason for this bad grace is easy enough to see. During his days at Cahiers du Cinema, Truffaut had been persistently negative about Carné and most of his contemporaries (Renoir alone could do no wrong). Although there was considerable variation among the Cahiers critics (Godard liked one René Clair film, LE QUATORZE JUILLET, for its portrayal of working-class holiday activities, but Truffaut hated them all), a broad general consensus could be found. Carné, Clair, Clouzot, Duvivier, Yves and Marc Allégret, Christian-Jacque and Claude Autant-Lara represented the paternalistic, old-fashioned “cinema du papa”, or “tradition of quality”. The goal was to destroy this brand of filmmaking (Rivette awarded a symbolic “bullet” to every Duvivier film released during his time at Cahiers — the bullet means “You’d be better off staying home than seeing this,” but it obviously has another, even more hostile implication).

In fact, Cahiers was always a pretty small-circulation magazine, and although the attacks on France’s sacred cows got plenty of attention, they certainly didn’t finish anyone’s career. Even René Clair, who withdrew from cinema with a feeling of having outlived his time, didn’t do so until the mid-sixties, some time after the Cahiers broadsides started.

The movement of Cahiers critics into film-making had a greater effect on the old guard. Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol and Rivette demonstrated in film what they could only argue in print, that it was time for more modern techniques and younger blood. In addition, the whole cultural scene was moving on, so that even without those iconoclasts, filmmakers who had been active since the ’20s were starting to look out of touch.

And it’s true that many of the old guard were no longer making their very best work. The infusion of freshness brought by the nouvelle vague cannot be underestimated: it must have been like the coming of rock ‘n’ roll. But the very politique des auteurs which they represented can be used to argue that film culture would have been richer if the cinema du papa crowd had all been allowed to continue making films alongside the new guys. It’s possible the nouvelle vague thought so too: Truffaut made his generous remark to Carné after his own directing career was in full bloom. Mostly hostile to Clouzot in reviews, he later paid tribute to LE CORBEAU and urged the director to return to filmmaking, resulting in the neglected masterpiece LA PRISONNIERE, a tale of kinky sexual shenanigans among the kinetic art set:

When you get into a director, it can lead you to appreciate the lesser films for their role in the body of work as a whole. Sometimes, what look like failures can assume greater stature in the light of the rest of the corpus. Certainly, only hardcore Hawksians treasure the director’s later works like RED LINE 7000, which is likely to seem extremely old-fashioned for a 1965 movie unless you go into it with a sympathetic eye for the filmmaker’s trademark concerns and mannerisms. Some will even place this film maudit amongst Hawks’ best achievements, and make a solid case.

Similarly, it’s undoubtedly a Good Thing that Chabrol and Godard and Rivette are still with us and still making films, along with contemporaries like Varda and Marker.

I haven’t seen Carné’s last film, 1977’s LA BIBLE (the film of the book?) but his 1974 LA VISITE MARVELLEUSE, a sort of hippy version of an H.G. Wells story, is very lovely. It has the same love of the fantastic and the same doomed romanticism of classic WWII-era Carné. Based on that, I’d like him to have made more late films. I’d even like to see his much-derided juvie delinquent drama LES TRICHEURS (1958).

http://tsutpen.blogspot.com

Julien Duvivier is a filmmaker I have a special affection for. He kept going despite the change in fashions until his death aged 70 in a car crash. I suspect he represented a special offense to the Cahiers boys, since he spoke of himself as a craftsman and always gave principle credit to his writers, notably Charles Spaak and Henri Jeanson. He was as far from the politique des auteurs as you can get. I think he’s a marvellous filmmaker, and I deplore the absence of most of his French-language work from the marketplace. PEPE LE MOKO is rightly hailed as a masterpiece of the poetic realist school, and available on a magnificent Criterion disc, but apart from the (justly acclaimed) American films, it’s nearly impossible to appreciate any of his works unless you speak French. Even in France the number of his films available is pitiful. For this reason alone, the Cahiers/nouvelle vague attacks are to be regretted: Duvivier’s reputation has slipped into the shade, with the result that it’s extremely hard to see his films and reassess them.

From AU BONHEURS DES DAMES — an eeeaaarly Duvivier.

Well, maybe it’s hard for one blog to make much of a difference in the face of 40 years of neglect, but we do what we can. Starting shortly, THE GREAT DUVIVIER GIVEAWAY will attempt to popularise and reclaim from history a 1939 masterpiece that’s been shunted into the sidings of obscurity. Watch this space and CLAIM YOUR FREE FILM, and your place in nothing less than the rewriting of movie history.