Pleins feux sur l’assassin (1961)

A pained old man in fancy garb staggers around before entering a secret room with his wind-up doll, and so dies top-billed Pierre Brasseur within five minutes. Soon his whole estranged family is summoned, and told that they’ll have to maintain his castle but can’t receive an inheritance for five years since the man’s body was never found. It is decided to turn the castle into a tourist attraction, using an electronic light & sound system to tell a ghost story. Meanwhile, all the (generally disrespectful) cousins and siblings and girlfriends and spouses are gradually turning up dead, leaving fewer in line for the inheritance.

Dead man in the walls:

Both movies feature a guy aiming a gun at his reflection:

Murder story full of unmemorable characters, a stock mystery with a less mysterious atmosphere than most of Franju’s non-mysteries, and my faded grey VHS tape defeating Franju’s usually deep shadows. Jean-Louis Trintignant (star of My Night at Maud’s) is our young protagonist, with his girlfriend who is not into the whole castle thing (Dany Saval of the Envy segment of The Seven Deadly Sins). I like how her car radio is tuned to the movie’s score, a sweeping, upbeat waltz. Gerard Buhr (of Bob Le Flambeur) dies first, then Philippe Leroy (fresh off his debut in Becker’s Le Trou) is killed in a jealous rage by Claude, husband of Jeanne (Pascale Audret of Phantom of Liberty), who later jumps from a tower in front of a paying audience (after being attacked by an owl!). An unseen evil manipulating people to their deaths using a microphone and sound system – someone has been watching Dr. Mabuse movies.

Marianne Koch (A Fistful of Dollars) is thrown from her horse but lives, helps unmask the killer/instigator as Jean Ozenne (Bunuel’s Diary of a Chambermaid). They get Jean Babilee (the great dancer of Duelle) to shoot Ozenne as he’s escaping, then we see Babilee attend the funeral so I guess that turned out okay. Same writers as Eyes Without a Face and cinematographer as Judex.

Thomas the Impostor (1964)

Don’t think I’ve ever seen a horse running with its hair on fire before. Thanks, Franju. A WWI movie based on Cocteau’s story of a blank-faced boy faking his way into the war. Thomas (Fabrice Rouleau, son of the actor who played the mysterious leprous baron in L’assassinat du Père Noël) uses the charmed name of his general “uncle” to ferry socialite nurse Emmanuelle Riva (star of Hiroshima Mon Amour) through barricades. Industrialist Jean Servais (the Stephanois of Rififi) wants to marry Riva, finds out the truth about Thomas.

Was less interesting in the second half, as Servais pulls strings to get Thomas an actual army position with Captain Roy (Cocteau regular Edouard Dermithe, hot young poet of Orpheus). A lot of strings are pulled in this movie, all to get unhelpful people closer to a war they should be avoiding. Roy gets a soldier killed through reckless flashlight use, reluctantly sends an eager Thomas on a mission that gets him shot, then Riva’s Thomas-smitten daughter kills herself. Slow, elegant camera – this would be worth seeing again if a better copy shows up.

Released two years after Cocteau’s death, supposedly inspired by his experiences as an ambulance driver during WWI.

“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.

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.

“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:

Don’t know why I assumed this was not a good movie. I’d seen screen captures from the DVD (some of the same ones I’ve got below) and somehow I still thought it was possible to make a bad movie using those images. It is not. This was astounding.


In a daring but successful shout-out to Feuillade, the story (set in 1910 or 20) is ridiculous. Plot threads do not weave together as in a tapestry of grand design. Each scene seems to have been thought up after the last one was finished filming. This is not a weakness, but adds to the movie’s dreamlike effect.

Master criminal Judex’s evil plans aren’t very broad-ranging in this story. He’s stalking rich guy Favraux acting as his servant, sends a letter demanding Favraux surrender half his fortune or he will die the next night. Next night at the costume ball (seen above), Favraux does die.

But he’s not dead! Imprisoned by Judex!


Daughter Jacqueline is left alone in the house!


She is easy prey for Marie, the swinding ex-governess of the house who returns to steal Favraux’s valuable papers and kidnaps Jac. when she interferes.


But Jac. is rescued by Judex’s dogs!


There’s a private eye named Cocantin (seen below reading Fantomas), originally hired by Favraux, and somehow still involved.


Can he stop Marie?!? Who can??




Ha, not really. Marie has captured Jac again, has her tied up atop a building along with Marie’s accomplice, a man who found his long-lost father earlier after Favraux tried to have the father killed, but that’s another story. Highlight of the movie here, Cocantin is wondering how to get atop that building when a circus caravan rolls past. Why, it’s the circus of his old friend Daisy, an acrobat who easily climbs the building!


Rooftop fight! Marie grabs the gutter! Will she fall??




I think the only actor I knew was Edith Scob as Jacqueline – just saw her as Mary in The Milky Way. Sylva Koscina (Daisy) was in some MST3K-approved Hercules films. Francine Bergé (Marie) was later in Mr. Klein, Rivette’s The Nun and Roger Vadim’s La Ronde remake. Channing Pollock (Judex) was a magician with only a few other film roles. René Génin (Pierre Kerjean) had appeared in Renoir and Carné films in the 30’s. This movie was co-written by Feuillade’s grandson, heh.

G. Gardner with Senses of Cinema:

Franju sought in particular to recapture Feuillade’s sense of documentary and his playfulness. He reproduced with as much exactitude as possible the costumes and settings which Feuillade filmed in scrupulous detail. Feuillade’s street-scapes are now an invaluable documentary record, but Franju also paid particular attention to reproducing the elaborate interior designs and furnishings of the day, resulting in settings of quite extraordinary detail and clutter. Franju also sought, despite the playfulness, to avoid any camp satire of these elements by over-emphasis or any special attention being paid to them.

In the title role, Franju pulled off his most brilliant coup by casting the master prestidigator of his day, near godlike in his handsomeness, Channing Pollock. Pollock’s skills as a magician were employed to produce a dazzling array of apparent magical occurrences involving, most particularly, disappearing doves, a plot device that Feuillade uses to enable the regular rescue of the heroine and others by Judex. Franju’s Judex is a far livelier, less sombre, more inventive and more mysterious character than that of Feuillade.