Archive for La Tete d’un Homme

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.

Belle of New York

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on May 9, 2009 by dcairns


Rainy days in New York City! Guy Budziak, of hardier stock than I, strode through the downpour with unflinching determination, as we sloshed our way to MoMA for the screening of Julien Duvivier’s LA BELLE EQUIPE. (I can’t even talk about LA TETE D’UN HOMME yet, that one’s just too good.) New York looks strange underwater, the ripples refracting off the steel and glass, swordfish, sharks and clownfish gliding silently between the stalled yellowcabs, swirling towers of bubbles from the sewers replacing the escaping steam fetishised by Scorsese.

Somehow Duvivier’s sad tale of five friends who win the lottery with a joint ticket and attempt to open a riverside open-air ballroom, only to see their dreams crushed one by one — somehow this film has become irrevocably associated with the days of the Popular Front in France, despite flopping on first release, and then flopping again when re-released with a happier ending, which would seem to suggest it was irretrievably out of step with the times, rather that a zeitgeist-encapsulating film of the moment.

MoMA kindly showed both endings, and provided some contextual information about the film’s unavailability for copyright reasons, a situation we must hope is resolved soon. But I’d sooner see LA TETE published on DVD, as that one’s a real masterpiece. Are you listening, Criterion?

EQUIPE has definite pleasures, with snappy dialogue, a smooth tonal shift from light to dark, Jean Gabin shouting, singing and carousing, and a guest appearance by Robert Lynen, the young star of the 1930s POIL DE CAROTTE. Viviane Romance, later of PANIQUE, plays a classic Duvivier tramp (a misogynist streak is emerging in the Great Director) who ruins men’s lives and gets away with it (which makes a refreshing change).


Photo taken illgeally by the author at MoMA: nothing to do with LA BELLE EQUIPE, seems to be a silent German version of Stevenson’s The Suicide Club.

After the tragic developments of LBE, it was a joy to find the sun shining as we emerged from the bowels of MoMA (where the rumbling of subway trains sometimes enhanced the shots of steam locomotives in the movie). Then I got back to the flat and learned I was too late to catch STAR TREK with friends, but on the plus side, the evening looms, and my host’s apartment is full of movies…