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LE CORBEAU

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Pierre Fresnay, Ginette Leclerc, Micheline Francey, Pierre Larquey
Director:  Henri-Georges Clouzot
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Criterion
Features:  See Review
Length:  91 Minutes
Release Date:  February 17, 2004

Film ***

Henri-Georges Clouzot's Le Corbeau (The Raven) was the right film at the right time in history, and it became very hated as a result.  Made in 1943 France during the German occupation, he spun a clever tale of suspicion, finger-pointing, and a community about to implode, but it seemed everyone who saw it found something offensive.  It nearly cost one of Europe's greatest directors his career before it really blossomed.

In a time of fear and disloyalty, when even a trusted friend might share a secret or two about you to better his own standing, Le Corbeau was both a reflection of its society and a condemnation of it.  Some saw it as anti-German.  Others saw it as anti-France.  It's probably safe to say that while Clouzot blamed the outside invaders as a powerfully negative force, he also saw some complacency among those that were supposed to be the good guys.

It tells the tale of a town turning upside down when a series of anonymous poison pen letters begin appearing everywhere.  The author is known only as “The Raven”.  Many of them are directed against Dr. Remy Germain (Fresnay), an emotionally cool physician who is juggling a couple of dispassionate affairs, one with the secretly lame Denise (Leclerc), one with a married woman Laura (Francey), whose husband happens to be Dr. Vorzet (Larquey), a psychiatrist and colleague of Germain.

The Raven seems to know everything about Germain and then some.  His affairs become public knowledge.  He is accused of being an abortionist.  But if life for Germain is becoming difficult, it also does for the townspeople, as the prolific pen of the Raven reaches farther and wider.  Soon there is even a suicide, leading frantic and paranoid citizens to turn angrily against one another.

Clouzot would go on to become “the French Hitchcock” (some of his latter suspense films are so good, I sometimes think of Hitchcock as “the English Clouzot”), so this early entry in his careers is quite a historical curiosity.  It's premise isn't the least bit subtle, so it's no wonder the man made enemies with his film, even if his intentions were good.  It took later directors like Goddard and Truffaut to help him to his deserved reputation as an important and influential director.

The fact is, Le Corbeau stands up well today.  It's political discourse shifts easily from Nazi dominated Europe to modern times, and remind us that paranoia is always waiting to be a destructive force if we're not careful.  The simple plot, which wouldn't seem so out of place in a Twilight Zone episode, is a worthy mystery that will keep you guessing while assembling the pieces in your mind.

Video ***

For a 60 plus year old film, Le Corbeau has held up pretty well, with only a few minor print difficulties here and there in the form of an occasional spot or scratch.  The black and white photography is a little more midrange than normal, but comes across with only minor grain and loss of detail issues.

Audio *1/2

Undoubtedly owing to the age of the film, the soundtrack is plagued by more than a fair share of hiss and background noise.  Some remastering was obviously attempted as scenes that are completely silent seem to have all sound cut, but as soon as someone speaks, the noise returns.  It's not overly distracting, but very noticeable.

Features **

Included on the disc is an original French trailer, an interview with director Bertrand Tavenier on Clouzot, and excerpts from a 1975 documentary on French cinema featuring Clouzot and this film in particular/

Summary:

Interesting both in and out of historical context, Le Corbeau is vintage early Clouzot that serves up some political commentary within the body of a satisfying mystery.