I’ve seen this – and the remake! – before, but long enough ago that I only had a few images and plot points in my memory. The twist is so good because the cover story is so believable – boarding school principal Michel is married to Christina, having an affair with Nicole, and is a real piece of shit to everybody, the two of them included, so they team up to murder him. Of course, why wouldn’t they? But the real plot is to get the nervous wife out of the way and collect her inheritance. After the murder plot goes wrong in various nerve-wracking ways, she’s finally scared to death by his apparent resurrection.

The happy trio:

Allegedly, Hitchcock wanted to make this before Clouzot bought the rights, so it’s salting the wound that the private detective is named Alfred. He hangs around the morgue looking for cases to investigate, and latches onto this one without anyone asking him to, then busts the two lovers in the last scene. The staging in this is so lovely. I’d have to rewatch Wages of Fear to see which I like better, but should probably rewatch that anyway just for the pleasure of it.

Alfred is Charles Vanel of Wooden Crosses and To Catch a Thief. The nervous wife was played by the director’s nervous wife Véra Clouzot, who did die of a heart attack a few years later. Costars Simone Signoret and Paul Meurisse would reunite much later in Army of Shadows.

WWII-era French town descends into paranoia when someone is writing letters accusing other townspeople of various crimes. I’m a fan of the sharp-looking Clouzot fast-paced b/w thrillers, though I watched this while tired and my notes make little sense (“everyone in church got forged letters arranging them to meet… no 13 suicided after letter… Rolande is someone”).

Key players:

Doctor Germaine: Pierre Fresnay, lead dude of The Devil’s Hand

Hotgirl Denise: Ginette Leclerc, “stupid wife” of the remade Late Mathias Pascal

Old Man Vorzet: Pierre Larquey, a Diabolique professor, 8th billed so nobody guesses he’s the villain

Young Goodwife Laura: Micheline Francey of a late 30’s Phantom Carriage remake

Dave Kehr:

Polished, impersonal work, it puts forward little more than a spirit of free-floating misanthropy. Remade (and improved) by Otto Preminger in 1951 as The Thirteenth Letter.

After watching Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno, which documents the director’s experiments with visual effects and attempts to integrate them with his stories via dream sequences, then reading at the end that he later used all these effects in The Prisoner, what could I do but run straight out to watch The Prisoner.

And boy did he ever put those effect experiments to use. It is full of light and color and lines and boxes, reflections and refractions. Real tight framing and editing, very clockwork in a wonderful way, with outstanding music, acting that seems unexceptional at first, but gets better. I’ve liked all the Clouzot movies I’ve seen, but have heard nothing about this one, so figured it’d be a dull late-career entry (it was his final released film), but no, he went out with a bang.

Gilbert (Bernard Fresson of Z and Street of No Return) is an artist who specializes in mass-produceable objects with geometric patterns that cause optical illusions when you spin them round. Stan (Laurent Terzieff of The Milky Way) runs a gallery where Gil and other guys are putting on a show. And Josée (Elisabeth Wiener of Duelle) is Gil’s girl, who jealously spies her man Gil talking to a reporter in a hall of mirrors, and so strikes up a chat with leering Stan, going back to his place to look at photos of “handwriting”.

The only thing I remember of Josée’s day job is that she spends some hours looking at interview films on an editing table, commenting that she can’t understand submissiveness and masochism in women. Of course this is a setup, and when she’s at Stan’s place she “accidentally” spies a slide of a naked girl in chains, which fascinates and excites her. Oh of course, it’s just another thing Stan dabbles in, photographing nude bondage sessions, but Josée is now obsessed, insists on attending the next one. Maguy (Dany Carrel, returning from Inferno) poses, Stan photographs and Josée watches anxiously.

Josée soon agrees to be photographed herself, and starts a heated affair with Stan. This was one year after Belle de Jour (and given Clouzot’s pacing, he might have written this film before Buñuel even dreamed of his). Clouzot’s picture is both less and more extreme than Buñuel’s – it’s surely more passionate and less clinical, when considering two directors I would’ve expected the opposite. The photographic sessions, even Maguy’s first one with minimal nudity, are erotic as hell, the height of sexy editing. It may be ultimately more tame than Belle de Jour though, with overall less to say about societal norms and sexuality.

Husband vs. lover, splendidly shot through a half-reflecting window:

Stan has a more poetic penchant for suicide than did the desperate, more tragic Dominique in La Vérité:

Interesting to watch this in the same month as Lady of Burlesque (1943), From Here to Eternity (1953), Monika (1953 but released in the U.S. in ’56), The Apartment (1960), Knife in the Water (1962) and even The Girlfriend Experience (2009). Half were (or at least were intended to be) sexually progressive films when released, all seem very of-their-time, and only The Apartment and this one still seem capable of shocking anyone today.

I loved the camerawork – mobile, but always with a specific goal, a plan to paint a picture through time. Clouzot, 60 years old, a widower with heart trouble, doesn’t seem quite up to the task of smashing a complacent society and visual expectations to bits with his camera, but he has no trouble smashing his lead actress to bits with a train, something he attempted earlier in Inferno.

D. Cairns:

And as a final note of strangeness, the film ends with a woman in a hospital bed calling for the wrong man—the very same ending as Richard Lester’s seminal Petulia, released the very same year. No possibility of one film influencing the other. Instead, both films must be hooked into something, something out there in the ether. Cinema can do that.

Very good doc on the film Clouzot almost made between La Vérité and La Prisonnière, starring Romy Schneider (of Welles’ The Trial) and Serge Reggiani (just off Le Doulos and The Leopard). The couple is on their honeymoon, or maybe just on vacation, in a small town shot in black-and-white, and Reggiani becomes increasingly wildly jealous of everyone his wife has contact with, his state of mind represented with color fantasy sequences and optical-illusion effects. Decades after the film fell apart (mainly because the writer/producer/director’s overreaching ambition clashed with his own perfectionism for details, wasting time and money and tiring the cast and crew) the script was filmed in the 90’s by Claude Chabrol, which I believe was the first of Chabrol’s movies I ever watched, too long ago for me to compare the finished movie with the Clouzot fragments.

Clouzot got some great cinematographers and effects people, including Claude Renoir, Rudolph Maté (The Passion of Joan of Arc) and Andreas Winding (Play Time). It was also the first credited film work by William Lubtchansky, who is one of the main interview subjects. The documentary is very excellent, showing much of the never-finished film (the color footage in particular looks amazingly vibrant, like it was shot yesterday), and not getting into irrelevant sidetrack stories. Interiors (and therefore most of the dialogue scenes) were never shot, and there’s no surviving sound recording from set, so two actors read from the script on a black stage, providing missing context.

Brigitte Bardot is woken up for court, checks herself in a broken sliver of mirror, and goes to stand trial for murdering her boyfriend Gilbert, who also turns out to be her sister’s fiancee. They discuss her past suicide attempts, which the prosecution dismisses as theatrical, then the Walter Matthau-looking prosecutor (Charles Vanel of Wages of Fear and Diabolique) carries on attacking not only her crime and her entire way of life, but the entire youth culture.

Deadly mirror:

Incriminating photo:

They criticise her for being loose, then they criticise her for NOT being loose with Gilbert (Sami Frey, in Godard’s Band of Outsiders the year after Bardot was in Contempt). “Mademoiselle, you are not exactly virginal. Why did you put off the only man you claim to have loved?” But it’s the proc’s job to attack her character, since it’s not in question whether she committed the crime, only whether it was a crime of passion, which carries a lesser punishment than premeditated murder.

Through flashback stories, Gilbert emerges as selfish, using the hot girl for sex while he’s a student, promising her marriage while he’s too broke to marry, then wedding the proper sister (Marie-José Nat of Anatomy of a Marriage) once his boat comes in.

Love triangle:

Creeping around an Alexander Nevsky poster:

“For seven months, all he offered her was his bed, and that only for fleeting moments, not to upset his routine. For months she goes hungry, begging, even prostituting herself. Did he reach out a helping hand? No, and you call that love?” This from the defense, which upsets her even more than the prosecution, the thought that Gilbert may not have loved her. Her suicide note, when she finally does herself in with the broken bit of mirror from the first scene, says “He loved me, but we didn’t love each other at the same time.”

Has its share of slow courtroom drama scenes, Bardot motionless, looking like a cardboard cutout of a pouty blonde and its share of less-than-thrilling backstory, but it’s a sharp looking movie and the plot comes together satisfactorily (for the viewer if not for Bardot’s character) at the end.

Bardot’s sister isn’t about to testify on her behalf, so Bardot’s friends come out to give character references, probably lost on the court which already declared them to be lowlifes. Above at left is Ludovic, André Oumansky (Burnt by the Sun). Could the middle man be future director Claude Berri? He was 26 when he appeared in this, and is credited sequentially with the other two, so it might be. [NOTE: not Berri, see comment below] Michel (Jean-Loup Reynold) gives the most impassioned and coherent defense, dismissing the court just as the court dismissed Bardot’s way of life. “Dominique is here because she rejected hypocritical conventions. We’re different. Young people should judge her.”

Music by Georges Auric, who also scored Cocteau’s movies. Shot by Claude Renoir, who also shot a handful of his uncle Jean’s films and also Barbarella. Director Clouzot made this between a mystery thriller and a spy parody.

A nice companion movie to La Belle noiseuse, another one where we actually watch a painting being created in real time. The movie introduces Picasso, then cuts to a full shot of a transparent canvas, Picasso’s brush (or pen, whatever) on one side, the camera on the other, so there are a few over-the-shoulder shots but mostly we’re seeing (a mirror image of) the canvas with the painting magically appearing upon it. There are edits and time-lapse too – areas of wet paint dry in an instant, whole areas of color or pattern suddenly appear. Sometimes we’re clearly watching a painting from start to finish in real time, and sometimes they’ll tell us in voiceover how long it actually took.

There’s no narration – rather what little verbal information we learn is in the form of (obviously staged) conversations between artist and camera crew. My favorite bit is when Picasso asks for a very large canvas and suddenly the movie goes into Cinemascope ratio (‘scope was less than three years old, so still a cool novelty).

It’s a suspense/art film as you watch the work in progress and try to wonder what PP is planning, where the painting is heading (even he doesn’t seem to know half the time), and when it’s “done”. The wonder of this film is that the paintings exist through time – most of them look great when complete, but the process and intermediate steps are just as great… you’re not just waiting for good art to appear at an unknown end point, you’re watching it all along. The filmmakers keep it short (<80 minutes), the music styles vary greatly between paintings, and there are some bursts of crew participation, like the time they pressure PP to finish a painting before their reel of film runs out. What a great movie! My favorite of documentary month. Katy and Jimmy liked it too. image




Thrilling movie, loved it. Also the gayest movie I’ve seen all year… and I’m not just saying that ’cause of the neckerchief. Very manly sweaty back-slapping kinda movie, and a weird subplot where our neckerchiefed hero loudly neglects his “girlfriend”. Movie also features lead characters named Mario and Luigi. That’s not adding to the gaiety, I’m just saying. Odd to see actors speaking Italian with synchronized sound.


Everyone’s stuck in this poor town and hangs out at the bar but nobody ever pays their tab. One day, an apparently rich fat man shows up and Neckerchief befriends him, then tries to start a little two-man gang to intimidate the others, when he’s not mistreating his girlfriend and his roommate. Fortunately, an oil refinery some miles away has an uncontrollable fire and they need a buncha nitro to block off the flames (fight fire with fire?). Nitro is loaded into two trucks and drivers are hired. Neckerchief gets in and helps the fat man cheat his way in… then roomie Luigi and some other guy drive the other truck. That part out of the way, the rest of the movie is a thrilling, bumpy ride.


After dude’s friends die and he gets the explosives truck to the burning oil fields, he gets WAY too happy and drives himself off a cliff. Is he happy cuz he’s now rich enough to leave town? To afford more whisky? To marry his “girlfriend” who’s waiting for him? I don’t know! I was talking to someone recently who hated this… was it Trevor & Robert? Anyhow, they’re so wrong. This kicks some ass, even if I can’t always figure out the lead characters’ behavior (hey, they’re Italian). First film ever to win both the Golden Palm (Cannes) and Golden Bear (Berlin), and has been remade twice so far.