Archive for Henri-Georges Clouzot

At this late hour

Posted in FILM with tags , , on November 28, 2011 by dcairns

You might like a banner, if you’re considering joining us for The Late Show — The Late Films Blogathon, which starts Thursday (jeepers, I better watch some films and write some stuff, huh?).

The image is from Henri-Georges Clouzot’s last theatrical feature, the delirious LA PRISONNIERE, which I wrote about here.

Peck’s Bad Boy

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2011 by dcairns

I have to say that Fred Zinnemann’s BEHOLD A PALE HORSE deserves its comparatively low status among his work, but it’s still full of interest. Based on a novel by the director’s old Berlin coffee house buddy Emeric Pressburger, it’s set in more or less contemporary Spain and across the border in France, where a die-hard rebel (Gregory Peck) is carrying on the Civil War as a personal feud with Guardia Civil chief Anthony Quinn.

At two hours, the film feels sluggish, in part because J.P. Miller’s script features minor characters not essential to the action — either they were in the book, or have been added to give Quinn’s character more “depth”. The effect is to further diffuse a movie which seems uncertain who its main character is. We’re introduced to the story through the eyes of a young boy (Marietto, a typically excellent Zinnemann juvenile), pick up Peck, follow Quinn for a while, and then bond with Omar Sharif (!) as a priest who gets mixed up in the action due to the dying wish of Peck’s mother.

Another reason for the prevailing inertia (apart from maybe a certain lack of energy in Zinnemann’s handling at times) is the story structure, in which Peck conceives of a daring mission in Act 1 — his mother is dying, under armed guard, and he wants to circumvent the Spanish authorities, break into the hospital, and see her — which is then endlessly deferred by a series of almost Bunuelian plot digressions. Some of the intervening action is exciting or compelling in its own right, but at the back of our mind is the knowledge that a gripping adventure awaits that we’re just not getting to, and that has the effect of making what’s currently onscreen seem less exciting.

There’s also the problem of casting. The first section of story has Marietto visiting Peck, a friend of his late father’s, to ask him to avenge dad’s death by killing Quinn — in other words, it’s TRUE GRIT before the fact. And, as in TG, the kid is severely disappointed by what he finds, at first wondering if the old guy slumped in the dingy hovel is the father of the man he’s looking for. The problem, of course, and it’s a fatal one for a movie about a man approaching old age and opting for a dramatic death, is that Peck looks remarkably healthy for his age. A certain tightness of the shirt about the belly does not serve to evoke advancing decrepitude (and we also have our outside knowledge that G.P. would last almost another forty years).

And of course Peck is his usual staunch, stolid self, with nothing of the bandit and less of the Spaniard about him. Did any actor of reasonable ability ever evoke so many recasting fantasies? Imagine Robert Ryan as Ahab in MOBY DICK, James Stewart as Sam Bowden in CAPE FEAR (in which Peck is good). Even in ROMAN HOLIDAY, which seems to work like a dream, I could be persuaded that William Holden might have raised it to an even higher level (there’s never any doubt that Peck will behave nobly, whereas with Holden, doubt is in his DNA).

The Brêche de Roland, 8,000 feet up in the Pyrenees. Such is my naivety, I assumed this HAD to be a matte shot. It’s real!

Zinnemann’s hand is otherwise quite sure, with some striking sequences and performances. Quinn doesn’t overact, and while it’s hard to figure out how Sharif wound up in a French monastery, he’s very soulful and effective. The movie’s not too strong on explaining the political background — Zinnemann worried that he was glorifying a terrorist, but a sterner eye on the Franco regime’s abuses might have alleviated his concerns.

And Peck gets one terrific scene, a classic of poetic understatement, excerpted for your pleasure here. He’s finally off on his mission, one of certain death. He pauses, and there’s an erotic distraction. But it’s too late for that kind of thing.

The cameo role of the girl is performed by Elizabeth Wiener! — Clouzot’s LA PRISONNIERE, Rivette’s DUELLE. And I can forgive both Peck and Maurice Jarre their many sins, looking at something like this.

As in the delightful, allusive moment in THE SUNDOWNERS where Deborah Kerr stares wistfully at a glamorous woman on a train, contrasting with her own sun-bleached, wind-blown appearance, nothing is spoken but everything gets said.

You Need Hands

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2010 by dcairns

I needed the obscure 60s remake of THE HANDS OF ORLAC, since it appears in Denis Gifford’s big green book of horror movies, and you know what that means. Sending off for an out-of-print VHS, I awaited the thing’s arrival with a certain lack of enthusiasm — I had actually seen bits of it years ago, and found it, well, terribly boring.

It’s amazing the difference a few years can make. But, on the other hand, THE HANDS OF ORLAC is still just as boring as it always was. Director Edmond T Greville was responsible for BEAT GIRL the previous year, which is eighteen separate kinds of HOOT, but how much of its unquestionably mad merits can be credited to the director? OK, he wrote the story too, and he must get credit for wrestling Gillian Hills, David Farrar, Christopher Lee, Oliver Reed and Adam Faith into the one movie. But his visual style is often pretty flat, his control of pace sometimes flaccid, and those negative qualities are allowed to dominate ORLAC.

You know the story — concert pianist Stephen Orlac (gangling meerkat Mel Ferrer) suffers horrific injuries to his hands in an accident, and a brilliant surgeon repairs the damage — but has he done so by transplanting the hands of a murderer? And will those hands resume their homicidal career from the ends of their new wrists?

No, and no. But getting to that answer is a protracted and largely tension-free drag, enlivened only by the appearance or lovely couple Chris Lee and Dany Carrel. Lee is a criminally inclined stage magician and Carrel his chanteuse squeeze, whom he persuades to seduce the fugitive Ferrer. Chris and Dany have a genuinely warm and delightful relationship:

“You made me into a slut, ” she accuses. Lee counters that she didn’t need much pushing. Charming.

Dany gets Mel’s interest by blundering into his room and having the front of her dress collapse in his face. This is typical behaviour of the rather adorable Ms. Carrel, who spent her career popping out, as in this perverse moment from MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN, a colourful yet turgid French horror —

It’s a strain, but she manages it. As early as 1957, in Duvivier’s POT-BOUILLE, she was bursting her bodice in Gerard Philippe’s direction (her co-star was Danielle Darrieux: Dany might not be able to out-act this living legend, but she could beat her in the random nudity department), and you can see her in archive footage in the new documentary about Henri-Georges Clouzot’s L’ENFER, again managing a nip-slip, I believe it’s called, setting off a chain of reactions in a lakeside restaurant. It’s a cheesy idea, one would think, but Clouzot gets some simply incredible stuff out of it, his camera gliding decisively from one glance to another. Vulgarity + excellence = Clouzot.

Sexy bad guys Chris and Dany are so much more exciting than protags Ferrer and Lucile Saint-Simon that one wishes for a whole other movie centering on the bad guys. Greville’s screenplay doesn’t provide this, of course, and it short-changes us out of the expected pleasure of an ORLAC movie also, wasting the great moment where the villain dresses up as an executed killer, brought back from the dead and demanding the return of his hands. Lee pops up in a crappy rubber mask, sporting a pair of hooks, then whips the disguise off within seconds.

But then, the movie’s explicit demonstration that Ferrer’s idée fixe (having the hands of murderer) is only a delusion has already spoiled the plot, and without really getting inside the hero’s disturbed mind, or turning him full-on psycho and letting him kill someone, the movie has no actual narrative resources to scare us with.

An intriguing image NOT present in my VHS copy. There’s a separate, uncensored French cut? What’s he going to write? Is that the first downstroke of the letter “B”, as in “BREASTS” — is he teaching her English?

So the whole mess is a valuable example of the fabled Million Dollar Mistake, or False Good Idea, in action — exposing the twist before the climax leaves the film without a motor to drive it forward, since we can assume a happy ending for the nice, middle-class hero and heroine, and a less-than happy one for the declassé du of Lee and Carrel. And we get both… eventually.

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