No, I’m not singing the PINK PANTHER theme tune — Durand Durand is a character in BARBARELLA who is introduced to us by Barb’s boss*, Claude Dauphin, and Durand singular is a character played by the selfsame M. Dauphin in LE MONDE TREMBLERA (1939), first mentioned yesterday. So I’m obsessed with completing this incipient trilogy, either by finding a third Dauphin sci-fi movie, or a third Dauphin movie involving a character called Durand. Call it OCD (Obsession Claude Dauphin).
Durand/Dauphin, assisted by the poacher from RULES OF THE GAME, has invented a sort of Strickfadenesque apparatus which allows him to expose a kind of photographic plate which then yields a sort of life-line which can be interpreted to yield the exact date of the subject’s forthcoming demise, no matter what causes it. It’s tested on a prisoner bound for the guillotine — the authorities attempt to pull a fast one by commuting his sentence — and he expires of an infarction on the spot and at the exact moment foretold.
Along for the ride is his backer, Erich Von Stroheim (a nimble and heartfelt bit of work from the occasional leaden star), whose Big Idea is to sell the machine to an insurance company which can use it to eliminate bad risks. But Dauphin/Durand, possessed of the Edison spark, wants his gift to be available to everyone who can afford it. The trouble is, once wealthy, powerful individuals have yielded to the morbid urge to gaze upon the hour of their ends, they tend to become disincentivized with regards to running huge corporations or whatever important work they do. Worldwide economic chaos looms. And then Durand/Dauphin, perhaps foolishly, pulls a Seth Brundle, getting drunk and testing his invention on himself…
Richard Pottier directs, not too ably — he persistently fails to match closeups so that a shot of Stroheim looking screen left is intercut with a shot of Dauphin also looking screen left. “What is there, screen left, that’s so interesting?” the audience wonders. But the photography and script are strong — Clouzot and his collaborator J. Villard pull of a great running gag with a poltroon who’s been promised he’ll live to be 100: bored already in his 40s, he attempts to shoot himself but continually fails… The film’s jarring tonal shifts aren’t typical of Clouzot, but its cynicism is — even as it positions itself as a warning against cynicism.
*Being Barbarella’s boss sounds like a pretty good position to have. How do you get to be Barbarella’s boss? Is there a form you have to fill in? I hate forms, but I would fill this one in quickly and efficiently. I guess, technically (and according to the credits) he’s actually President of the Earth, which sounds like a lot of work, responsibility etc. I wonder if you could leave the presidential duties to someone else and just be Barbarella’s boss. It would be worth being President of Earth if Barbarella was included in the deal, I guess, but I would worry that running an entire G-class planet might eat up most of my time and leave me with very little opportunity to tell Barbarella to do things (missions, etc), which would be a bitter irony indeed.