Archive for Christian-Jacque

Hell Blazers

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on August 3, 2016 by dcairns


Coincidentally, we’ve been watching lots of school movies. After THE MAN WHO TURNED TO STONE, which is set in a girl’s detention centre, which is kind of a school, we watched Mexican spookshow HASTA EL VIENTO TIENE MIEDO (EVEN THE WIND IS AFRAID), which is set in a boarding school, which is kind of a detention centre, and LES DISPARUS DE ST-AGIL, which is also set in a boarding school, but for boys this time.


I really enjoyed Carlos Enrique Taboada’s VENENO PARA LAS HADAS (1975) when I saw it at EdFilmFest a few years ago, so I was intrigued to see his earlier youth-horror movie. VPLH was about kids, and while it was a bit plodding in its development, what developed was pretty unusual, intelligent and compelling. HEVTM is about teenagers, and is really plodding, but does end up getting somewhere interesting, once the spectre of a student suicide takes over the form of a living kid and uses her for revenge from beyond. Flesh-and-blood ghosts, or revenants, are comparatively rare in movies, and this flick essentially invents its own mythology, which is cool.

All the schoolgirls look about 37. But the red blazers are neat.


Christian-Jaque’s classic French school mystery, about disappearing kids, has hints of the uncanny, but there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for everything. Michel Simon, all beady eyes, bristling toothbrush mustache, and shiny face, is one teacher/suspect, and Erich Von Stroheim is another. It’s 1938, there’ talk of war, and the language teacher from elsewhere is regarded with suspicion. If France had really been ready for battle, I guess they would have made him the baddie, but instead he’s a very sweet red herring. The French were just too civilized.

Christian-Jaque directs with great elegance, his loveliest shot being a glide round a corner to follow a departing boy. We lose sight of him for a second or so — and when we’ve cleared the corner, he’s GONE.


Also, small boy complains of his tortoise, “He won’t eat.” “What have you been feeding him.” “Nothing.” “Why?” “Because I don’t know what tortoises eat.”


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on November 14, 2012 by dcairns

Britain really lucked out with its first talkie — what made Hitchcock’s BLACKMAIL great was that he’d made it first as a superior silent. Shooting sound scenes and dubbing Anny Ondra made it less great in most ways, but it was so good to begin with it survived the conversion. It took Hitch several more films before he could repeat the trick, internalizing the balance between dialogue and purely visual storytelling.

LES TROIS MASQUES is your Pathe-Natan film for this week. It’s officially the first French talkie, but because no sound stage was ready in France, it was shot in England, at the studio of John Maxwell, the Scottish barrister turned movie mogul who also produced many early Hitchcocks. Although already filmed in 1921 as a silent, this version is every inch the early talkie, with all the longeurs that implies. The camera never seems to be in entirely the right place, as if it’s shunted sideways to make way for a microphone, or maybe another camera. Scenes trundle on, mere records of time passing, and though pleasing design (by future director Christian Jacque) means there are some attracting images, nothing catches dramatic fire. Use of sound is generally for novelty value rather than really creative, with some background music and a storm scene no doubt adding interest, and the novelty of hearing their own language spoken probably wearing off for French audiences before the film ends.

Still, this was a throwing down of the gauntlet. While other producers in France saw sound as a death-blow, Bernard Natan seized it as an opportunity — films that spoke French in their original form would have an edge in the marketplace over dubbed American films. That might not be enough to conquer Hollywood, but it could allow the national cinema to carve out its own personal space — and it did. And this after MGM’s vice-president Arthur Loew had declared that, thanks to talking pictures, in ten years time English would be the only language spoken in the world. Against this background, the decision to make French talkies looks momentous.

Director Andre Hugon would make several films for the company, and to his credit he does throw in a few close-ups here, saved for moments of maximum dramatic impact. The film is in fairly wretched condition, with no good elements known to exist, and my copy comes from a VHS off-air recording which is likewise showing its age, so the movie may have other virtues obscured by the poor resolution.

Still, this was just the beginning, and the studio’s very next production, filmed on French soil, would be fluid and even dynamic, and creatively intermingled visual and auditory rhythms. It’s a slight piece, but I think it’s worth posting in its entirety…

Santa’s Angry

Posted in FILM with tags , on December 24, 2009 by dcairns

L’ASSASSINAT DE PERE NOEL is so full of gorgeous images that it demands another post just to show them off, especially as they’re so seasonal. It’s snowing in Edinburgh too, as I type this (we never get a White Christmas normally).

This film is chocka with shadowy figures skulking through the snowdrifts, bent on criminous misdeeds. Which is what Christmas is all about, at the end of the day, isn’t it?