Nuits Rouges (1974, Georges Franju)

Some nice TV mystery music right from the start. The material for a feature film (35mm) and miniseries (16mm) were shot at the same time, Franju and writer Jacques Champreux [EDIT: just learned this is Louis Feuillade’s grandson] looking to make “a gentle parody” of 1940’s American serials, not so much the early French serials they referenced in Judex. Champreux says that some of the 35mm film cans were stolen while shooting in Belgrade, so some of the lesser television stuff was cut into the feature. No matter, it’s a fine, twisty picture, less dark and mysterious than Judex, more colorful and campy.

I want a black monocle:

Albert the butler sells information about his master Maxime de Borrego to a transparently fake “old lady” (inspired by Lon Chaney in The Unholy Three, I later learned) about the secret treasure of the Knights Templar, so the old lady becomes Shadowman (that name is never used – he’s credited as L’homme sans visage – played by the film’s writer), kills Max, and installs an underling (Max’s “nephew”) to search for the treasure.

When the real nephew arrives (Ugo Pagliai, an Alain Delon wannabe), the cops burst in on the fake, who blows a smoke bomb and flees. This is our first definite indication that the movie intends parody, if we weren’t sure of the sincerity of Shadowman’s red sock mask or old lady costume. The police all choke and stumble around – meanwhile next door, an old man grumpily makes his way over and opens the window for them, climbs slowly inside and proclaims “we’d better call the police,” set to comically energetic adventure music.

Ugo and Josephine:


Meanwhile, Shadowman’s underground mad scientist has turned some guys into zombie slaves, who wander into the police station and assassinate the arrested butler. The police superintendent (Gert Frobe – Goldfinger himself, also a head policeman in Lang’s 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse) is troubled by all the murder and fake nephews and killer zombies, so nephew Paul goes off with his friends (Josephine Chaplin – Geraldine’s sister, also in Pasolini’s Canterbury Tales – and a crescent-moon-chinned “poet detective” named Seraphin) and devise a bunch of ill-fated plans.

A couple traps are set – first Seraphin is set as bait and when the chief bad girl (Gayle Hunnicutt, also in Scorpio with the real Alain Delon) gives chase, we get the inevitable Feuilladian Paris rooftop catsuit chase scene. I think two cops and an innocent bystander are killed, so the gang tries again, staging a treasure auction in association with Professor Petrie – another trap which also leads to heartbreak. In the aftermath when the treasure is revealed as fake, “I condemn Professor Petrie to death for his lack of scientific integrity” – funny that the actor playing Petrie is an actual Templar historian.

Where will Shadowman strike next? Does the Templar treasure even exist? Who was the knight who stood up in a secret ceremony to take the murdered Max’s place? Can we get some examples of Seraphin’s “poet detective” skills, please? Hopefully these questions will all be answered in the TV series version.

At first I was disappointed that it’s not Judex, just a color rehash, but I started to warm up to this movie’s own particular magic. Actors strike and hold poses. The music in the rooftop chase is dreamy and sublime, and the color has more 60’s charm than gritty 70’s fade. It has the dreamlike narrative incoherence of a Feuillade film, then snaps into what seems like an comic-book movie for ten-year-olds, then displays alarming violence at times. And the baddies seem to have hidden cameras everywhere a la Dr. Claw, yet the movie also displays the height of actual then-current technology – a Pong game.