Archive for House of Cards

The Chauffeur Always Honks Twice

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

vlcsnap-2015-01-06-11h44m00s158

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.

vlcsnap-2015-01-06-11h41m43s47

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.

vlcsnap-2015-01-06-11h43m01s81

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.

vlcsnap-2015-01-06-11h44m38s26

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.

 

Advertisements

Still More Things That Aren’t Films, Again

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2014 by dcairns

house-of-cards-trailer

Enjoyed the first season of House of Cards — a box set Christmas gift from our pal Alison. David Fincher is turning into a classicist — he no longer feels compelled to fly his camera through kettle handles, at any rate. Struck by how it is, basically, Richard III done over (already done over for the books and UK TV series), and by how camp Kevin Spacey plays it in his asides to camera. NOT an accident — two-thirds of the way through the series there’s a hint of a male-on-male love affair in his character’s past, so I guess the fey glances have all been plating clues — Francis can be himself when he’s talking to US.

Read the four Grofield novels by Richard Stark, who was Donald Westlake (among others). Grofield is a sometime accomplice to Stark’s main protag anti-hero Parker. The books are The Damsel, The Dame, The Blackbird and Lemons Never Lie. Where Parker is a ruthless professional always motivated by the next score, Grofield is a part-time actor with his own summer stock company who only robs on the side to keep him in production, and he’s more whimsical. In the books he stars in, Stark/Westlake presses him into service as a secret agent, has him turn detective to solve a mystery (a genre Westlake/Stark rarely dabbled in at all), embroils him in a cross-country chase/gauntlet thing, and cobbles together one narrative out of a series of seemingly disconnected elements that keep threatening to come apart altogether, but eventually resolve into a revenge story.

Though quite capable of Parker-like ruthlessness when pressed, Grofield is more whimsical (he’s an actor after all) and prone to a quip. And they’re good quips.

marlirenfro

Marli Renfro, The Girl.

All this amorality had me in the mood for something with a moral compass. The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shower may not quite fit, but it does balance fairly extreme psychopathic evil with the ordinary Hollywood business-as-usual kind, detailing true crime stories that intersect with the life of Janet Leigh’s body double from PSYCHO, Playboy model Marli Renfro. It wraps this blog post up nicely too, since it’s written by Robert Graysmith, played by Robert Downey Jnr in David Fincher’s film ZODIAC. “Who wouldn’t want to read a book written by a guy played by Robert Downey Jnr?” I thought, snatching the paperback up in a charity shop.*

Actually, Graysmith’s prose lacks the gozo suavity you’d want from a RD character, being mostly flat journalese with plunges into school essay plain bad and occasional bobs up into wit. He’s also unreliable on film, cobbling together his PSYCHO making-of stuff from a variety of contradictory sources and blithely declaring that most of the shower scene contains seventy-eight pieces of film, seventy takes of two and three seconds and over ninety splices for a sequence that runs only forty-five seconds.” Do the math. Or arithmetic, anyway. “The was no auto-focus in late 1959,” he explains, later, as if auto-focus was a tool commonly used today on professional shoots. That’s why the streets are full of former camera assistants with cardboard signs reading “Will pull focus for food.”

But the damn thing has me snared. I am a true crime sucker.

*In fact, he’s played by Jake Gyllenhaal.