“The dead should keep quiet.”

Now that i’ve watched Franju’s Shadowman and Judex, lesser-known masterpieces of light, shadow and creepy atmosphere with pulpy serial subjects, it’s time to revisit the original. I’m not sure how he got from Blood of the Beast to the psychiatric hospital drama Head Against the Wall, but as cofounder of the Cinematheque Francaise, perhaps he had an omnivorous love for poetic film in all forms.

Upbeat carnival music – not creepy sounding, which possibly makes it even creepier – as a woman with a pearl necklace (Alida Valli of The Third Man, schoolmistress of Suspiria) furtively dumps a trenchcoated faceless body (movie always fades out quickly after showing us anything faceless) into the river. She works for surgeon Pierre Brasseur (the actor Lemaitre in Children of Paradise), who saved her face from disfigurement and hopes to completely recreate a face for his even-more-disfigured daughter Edith Scob, who spends most of the movie behind an uncanny featureless mask, as recently spotted at the end of Holy Motors.

In her full-faced years, Edith dated a handsome young doctor with plastic hair (Francois Guerin of The Aristocrats), who suspects she is still alive and involves a heavy-set inspector (Alexandre Rignault of La Chienne and Mon Oncle d’Amerique) in the case. I get the young doctor confused with a young cop (Claude Brasseur, Pierre’s son, of The Elusive Corporal), but neither of them ultimately matters.

L-R: elder Brasseur, elder cop, young doctor, young Brasseur/cop:

Paulette having her treatment:

The very reasonable-acting mad doctor kidnaps more girls, attempting to graft their faces onto his daughter’s to only temporary avail – first Edna (Juliette Mayniel of Chabrol’s Les Cousins), who escapes into the main house then suicides when she sees herself in a mirror, then police-plant Paulette (Beatrice Altariba, Cosette in the Jean Gabin Les Miserables). Faceless Edith, hidden away in her room with no entertainment except her own funeral program, finally loses her patience, frees Paulette, stabs the pearl-choker assistant in the throat and sets the lab dogs loose on her dad, then wanders outside, a walking statue surrounded by doves.

Franju made after Head Against the Wall, assisted by Claude Sautet (a noted director in the 1970’s). Cinematographer Eugen Schufftan had shot People On Sunday, worked with GW Pabst, Max Ophuls, Rene Clair and Edgar Ulmer. A quiet movie but for the judicious, counterintuitive use of upbeat music.

“You’re botching my gramophone!”

Jean-Pierre Mocky (also the film’s writer, who would later write/direct/produce/star in something called Mocky Story) is our rebel star, a fuckup biker who borrows money all over town and carries on affairs with pretty ladies. The sister of the husband of one of those ladies (Anouk “Lola” Aimée) comes by to warn Mocky away, but she instantly falls for him because he is bad. Then he goes home, burns some of his dad’s work papers, and gets arrested and committed to a mental institution.

Movie slows right down, becomes an exposé of institution life, and more importantly, the impossibility of ever leaving. Mocky meets Charles Aznavour (who was in this and Testament of Orpheus before starring in Shoot The Piano Player), who seems alright but falls into seizures at moments of great stress, and the two talk about being (or seeming) cured, or of simply escaping from the facility.

Not my favorite kind of story, but Franju keeps it visually amazing, as he always does. He and cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan (Eyes Without a Face, Port of Shadows) do such a job with the black-and-white, I can’t imagine it being filmed in color (one of these days I’ll get around to watching color Franju film Shadowman). Some memorable moments: a patient gets violent with a saw, Aznavour has a fit during an escape attempt, he and Mocky ride a little train around the facility, the two doctors coldly discuss their patients outside a cage full of doves (symbolism, anyone?) and Edith Scob (below), in her first film, starts singing.

The “good” doctor (if Aznavour can be believed) whose ward is always full is noble-looking Paul Meurisse (Army of Shadows, Le deuxième souffle, Diabolique), and our man’s doctor (distinctive-looking with his beard and spectacles) is Pierre Brasseur (Port of Shadows and Children of Paradise, later star of Eyes Without a Face and Goto: Island of Love). Mocky’s evil dad is Jean Galland (the masked dancer in Le Plaisir, also star of Renoir’s Whirlpool and Pál Fejös’s Fantomas).

Another failed escape: Mocky tries to walk out with Anouk Aimée on visiting day: