Archive for Julien Duvivier

Screening the evidence

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 10, 2012 by dcairns

Watched LA TETE D’UN HOMME, Julien Duvivier’s Maigret film, made at exactly the same time as Renoir’s take on the Simenon sleuth, LA NUIT DE CARREFOUR, and based on the same book as the later Meredith/Laughton MAN ON THE EIFFEL TOWER. I essentially watched the film by mistake, as part of my researches into Pathe-Natan, based on a filmography that erroneously cited the film as shooting at Natan’s studio.

Nevertheless, it’s a mistake I can’t regret as I loved the film when I first saw it at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and I loved it just as much this time. Harry Baur is a near-definitive Maigret. Impossible for the high-octane thesp to match the air of depleted nothingness Pierre Renoir brought to it, perfectly capturing the human, dour functionary of the books, but Baur dials down his towering charisma and actually seems to shrink into the part, despite being by some way the biggest man on screen. Duvivier helps by casting the gangling sunflower Alexander Rignault, with his big flapping orang-utan hands, so there’s one actor taller than Baur, if not bulkier.

Valery Inkijinoff is amazingly sinister as the psychopath Radek. A Russian with eastern features, he had a looong career playing Eskimo, Chinese, Japanese, Red Indian, and even occasionally Russian. Given the role of a lifetime, he manifests an incredibly compelling screen persona — his delivery seems a little overemphatic at times, but it really doesn’t matter, because his LOOK and his posture are so utterly hypnotic. We’re talking Peter Lorre levels of you-can’t-look-away-ness.

One very interesting effect — Pathe-Natan may be nowhere in the mix, but Natan’s friend the inventor Yves Le Prieur contributed his Transflex… let me explain. Le Prieur is best remembered as a co-inventor of the scuba, but he also came up with air-to-air rockets for WWI and a translucent movie screen called the Transflex which facilitated rear projection. If you use an ordinary movie screen, you can’t get a bright enough image on the reverse side, but the Transflex was opaque enough to hide the projector, but see-through enough to show a strong image to the camera.

Le Prieur declined to patent his invention, and it swiftly found its way to America where it was deployed on JUST IMAGINE and LILIOM. Of course, it was a huge help, after some Hollywood fine-tuning, on KING KONG, but sadly the inventor is rarely credited.

In this scene, one of Maigret’s assistants questions a series of witnesses. In fact, he’s standing in front of a Translux upon which the background and his interviewees are projected. In a series of dissolves which have already been produced in the lab, the backgrounds melt away into one another while the detective remains in place in one continuous shot, as if he were teleporting from one location to another. The process of the law captured in a process shot.

There’s also a sequence in which the desperate fugitive/patsy steals bread from a child, which seems very much influenced by James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN, although the shots are actually entirely different ~

Wow. Click and enlarge any of these stills for your daily beauty fix.

A Bad Egg

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on February 27, 2012 by dcairns

Took me ages to get around to VOICI LES TEMPS DES ASSASSINS, a major Julien Duvivier film. Not sure why. It’s very good indeed, with Jean Gabin settling into his portly patriarch phase, and Daniele Delorme electrifying as his ex-wife’s daughter who comes into his life, seduces him, and wrecks his relationships.

The closest comparison is with LA BELLE EQUIPE, in which Gabin co-founds a riverside bar identical to the one his mother runs here (a fearsome woman, she decapitates chickens with a bullwhip). Gabin himself runs a successful restaurant in Les Halles — Duvivier artfully intercuts nostalgic footage of the real, long-vanished market, with his own elaborate studio reconstruction, and has a rare time tracking around the restaurant itself. The interiors of the film having been constructed to facilitate the director’s elegant camerawork, we get some great stuff tracking between tables, through doorways, peering around partitions…

LA BELLE EQUIPE shares with this film a slightly undercooked ending (LA BELLE EQUIPE has two, one happy, one sad, the sad one being the original and preferable version, but neither one quite living up to what’s gone before) and also a female spirit of malevolence of the kind the director returned to several times in his career. While Viviane Romance in the 1936 movie is an almost unmotivated force of pure evil, Delorme at least has in her past sufficient trauma to suggest how her character got so warped.

While the earlier film acquired a received-wisdom reading as an allegory for the Popular Front (friends decide to share their good fortune and go into business together; it all falls tragically apart), which Duvivier denied intending, I don’t see any similar political subtext here, except as a premonition of the deepening generation gap. Gabin has a young friend he regards almost as a son, who goes on student demos — Delorme drives them apart and conspires to kill both of them. Fear of women seems to drive the movie, with both Gabin and Delorme’s mothers representing different sorts of destructive possessiveness. But the characters at least have individual psychologies that make sense, and it’s a relief not to have the somewhat insipid “good girl” archetype too — Duvivier’s vamps are much more fun than his virgins. But that’s the case with most filmmakers, isn’t it?

One of Billy Wilder’s rules: “If she’s not a whore, she’s a bore.”

There’s also an English lady customer with a drunken dog called Group Captain.

Film Stocking Fillers

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2011 by dcairns

A wild west Christmas tree from LES PETROLEUSES.

I hate lists, generally — too much film writing is based on the list structure, and at this time of year, “best of” lists proliferate horribly. But if I’m honest, the reason I never participate in them is I can never remember whether I saw something in the last year or the year previous. Or the year before that.

However, the idea of a list of neglected Christmas movies did seem potentially worthwhile — if you have access to nay of the below, or they turn up on TV, they might plug an otherwise unproductive gap in your schedule as you lie replete with turkey and pudding, or might even unite homicidal family members in yuletide bliss for ninety minutes. Anyhow, they’re all films I like, and many of them can be explored further on this site or elsewhere — links will be provided.

REMEMBER THE NIGHT — the first Christmas edition of The Forgotten focussed on this lovely genre-twisting 1939 charmer from screenwriter Preston Sturges and director Mitchell Leisen. What begins as a contrived screwball comedy, with assistant DA Fred MacMurray saddled with jewel thief Barbara Stanwyck over the holidays, dips a toe into rustic tragedy, settles into bucolic sentiment, then takes a side-swerve into near-tragedy. While Sturges typically pulled tonal shifts out of a seemingly bottomless hat and shuffled them like playing cards, here the film sticks to each emotion long enough to settle, which makes the mood swings all the more surprising, but also effective. And it captures some of the authentic family experience — good and bad.

L’ASSASSINAT DU PERE NOEL — not as iconoclastic as it sounds. Christian-Jacque directs this snow-bound murder mystery, with Harry Baur as a definitive Santa. The opening titles, where he lumbers, Frankenstein-like, out of darkness, sets a disquieting tone otherwise eschewed in favour of the peculiar cosiness a good whodunnit so often generates. An air of magic fringes on Cocteau territory, the feelgood fuzziness of the ending is accompanied by the funniest wrap-up to a mystery I ever saw.

LYDIA — Julien Duvivier’s not-exactly-remake of his own CARNET DU BAL doesn’t come on strong as a Xmas flick, but there’s enough studio-bound sleigh-ride romance to make it qualify. You may NEED to shed those tears, this time of year — otherwise you’ll be lugging them around in your ducts like ballast for another twelve months. No movie with Merle Oberon and three suitors sitting around with great wads of latex all over their heads should have any claim on our emotions, but this one does.

THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG — I like it when the Christmas spirit ambushes you, leaping from behind an Esso station and slugging you across the skull with a sack of presents when you’re least expecting it. And said spirit includes a fair share of melancholy, right? Of course, not every film with snow at the end is a Xmas film — I wouldn’t make that claim for FAHRENHEIT 451, although come to think of it, that red fire engine is kind of festive.

THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE — the concentration is on New Year’s, an even more tragic and melancholy time than Xmas, but this still counts. The Sjostrom version is a true classic, but the Duvivier remake deserves more love too — it has Louis Jouvet, and amazing constructed snowscapes, and the same morbid, redemptive storyline: it’s a little like Scrooge, only he has to die.

Stuff I saw on TV as a kid which I haven’t revisited recently enough — Chuck Jones’ A Cricket in Times Square and its sequels, the Harry Alan Towers production of CALL OF THE WILD (with an epic, emotive Mario Nascimbene score), and the Richard Williams animation of A Christmas Carol.

Your own suggestions, please!

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