QUAI DES ORFEVRES
Review by Michael Jacobson
Louis Jouvet, Suzy Delair, Bernard Blier, Simone Renant, Charles Dullin
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: Television interviews, trailer, poster gallery
Length: 106 Minutes
Release Date: May 27, 2003
expect a good case…”
it all boils down to the usual: diddley-squat.”
first experience with Henri-Georges Clouzot began inauspiciously…being bored
one night, I rented a copy of the Criterion DVD of Diabolique.
The description on the box sounded interesting, and it was a
Criterion disc, so I took a chance. It
turned out to be the most suspenseful film I’ve ever seen, with a
nerve-wracking climax that had me just about pulling hair from my head!
Hitchcock may be cinema’s master of suspense, but I personally think Clouzot
could go the distance with him. I
later saw Wages of Fear, where four men drove two trucks filled with
nitroglycerin across some of South America’s most unforgiving terrain and
nearly went out of my mind for the duration of the film’s running time.
I knew I had to see more.
Criterion has released a third Clouzot film to disc. Quai des Orfevres is a 1947 bit of noir about a murder
and a police investigation. And
interestingly enough, we know early on who did the murder, so there is no
whodunit mystery to follow. The
film instead rests on the process of following the clues, where perfect alibis
collapse, where carefully constructed lies come apart, and where an innocent man
begins to crack under the pressure. In
other words, if you think suspense can’t be created in a film where you know
who’s guilty and who isn’t, think again.
movie begins with a theatrical married couple having some problems.
Maurice (Blier) is a piano accompanist married to sexy but dim showgirl
Jenny Lamour (Delair). She loves
her husband, but is spirited and flirtatious by nature, and Maurice is
constantly suspicious and jealous.
a hunchbacked perverted movie producer named Brignon (Dullin) takes an interest
in Jenny, she doesn’t see any harm. But
when Maurice learns she has agreed to meet him at his home after he has
forbidden her to, he flies into a rage. He
plans a murder, right down to carving out a perfect alibi for himself.
problem? When he gets to
Brignon’s house…he’s already dead. Jenny
resisted his unwelcome advances with a bottle to the head. Begging her photographer friend Dora (Renant) to keep it a
secret, Dora (who’s actually in love with Jenny herself), agrees to return to
the murder scene to clean up a few fingerprints and to retrieve Jenny’s fur
Detective Lieutenant Antoine (Jouvet), who has a murder on his hands and three
people with alibis who all visited the crime scene. The most likely suspect is Maurice, who threatened to kill
Brignon in public once before and who had the best motivation:
a crime of passion. However,
we know Maurice didn’t do it. Yet
when his alibi starts to unravel, and because of the coincidental theft of his
car that night, Maurice may find that innocence isn’t shield enough!
to the two later Clouzot films I mentioned, Quai des Orfevres has a less
sinister tone. It’s filled with
characters that the director has both sympathy and empathy for.
While he may have had empathy for the scheming women in Diabolique or
the drivers who place a dollar value on their lives in Wages of Fear, there
isn’t sympathy, for these are characters who clearly chose their own
destinies. Poor Maurice tried to choose, but found fate had other plans
for him. All characters have
moments that draw us to them…even the rugged detective, who worries about his
young son in the midst of all the chaos around.
There are even moments of comedy and sexiness that help contain the
tension a bit. Clouzot was a few
years away from when he would allow his audiences no reprieve from the suspense.
only real complaint here is that Clouzot kept an ace up his sleeve until the
final call. It turns out we
didn’t know everything we thought we knew.
Perhaps it’s good that the characters were handed a somewhat happy
ending that they couldn’t find on their own, but modern filmgoers will have to
call it for what it is…a major league deus ex machina.
I can’t quibble too much. The
film is marvelously constructed, with terrific camera work and editing that give
it Clouzot’s typical sense of pent-up energy and tight pacing.
And the story unfolds well up to a point where to keep it going in the
same direction might have seemed cruel…but then again, Clouzot had that
deliciously wicked sense of cruelty in other pictures.
cast is terrific, from noted character actor Louis Jouvet as Antoine to the
superb Bernard Blier as the pitifully hapless Maurice.
Both leading ladies Suzy Delair and Simone Renant bring vim and energy to
their roles…not to mention quite a bit of radiant sex appeal.
Quai des Orfevres is terrific early entertainment from the only director I’ve ever experienced capable of out-Hitchcocking Hitchcock. First time views of Clouzot will enjoy this work in and of itself, and then be more than ready for his more brash and relentless later pictures.
TRIVIA: Quai des Orfevres is roughly the French equivalent
to Scotland Yard.
is the studio I trust most for care and presentation of classic films, and
they’ve done well again with a crisp and detailed black and white transfer for
this 1947 French film. Images are
sharp and well defined, and the palate renders all tones from deep blacks to
pure whites with integrity. The
print itself is in good condition, with only minimal instances of specs or
dinginess noticeable here and there…well within acceptable limits for a film
mono soundtrack is in agreeable condition.
Though in French, dialogue seems rendered well enough, and that’s the
main attraction. Apart from a
couple of songs, musical cues are minimal (save for the crucial ringing of the
Christmas bells near the finale, which adds a little punch). There is some slight unavoidable background noise noticeable
only in the quietest scenes, but again, well within acceptable limits. Unspectacular
by nature, but still nicely done.
main feature is a 1971 French television program Au Cinema ce soir, which
discusses Quai des Orfevres with Clouzot and his three main actors, Blier,
Delair and Renant. It’s an
interesting look back at the film, with the actors sharing a fascinating story
or two about the director who earned a reputation for being brutal with his
casts! Rounding out are a poster
gallery and an original trailer. I
also have to point out that the still shot Criterion selected for the main menu
screen is brilliant, and the playing of Suzy Delair singing “Dance With Me”
is a welcome touch!