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Quai des Orfevres
The Criterion Collection
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Blacklisted for his daring "anti-French" masterpiece, Le Corbeau, Henri-Georges Clouzot returned to cinema four years later with the 1947 crime fiction adaptation, Quai des Orfevres. Set within the vibrant dancehalls and historic crime corridors of 1940s Paris, ambitious performer Jenny Lamour (Suzy Delair), her covetous piano-playing husband Maurice Martineau (Bertrand Blier), and their devoted confidante Dora Monier (Simone Renant) attempt to cover one anothers tracks when a sexually ogreish high-society acquaintance is murdered. Enter Inspector Antoine (Louis Jouvet), whose seasoned instincts lead him down a circuitous path in this classic whodunit murder mystery.
Though dressed in the guise of a murder mystery, Quai des Orfèvres is a rich, engrossing character study in which murder plays a secondary role. Six years before the triumph of The Wages of Fear, director Henri-Georges Clouzot couldn't find a copy of his source novel (Légitime Defense, by Stanislas-André Steeman), so he crafted this stylish police procedural from spotty memory, infuriating the author while freeing himself to explore the depths of his all-too-human characters. Using atmospheric Parisian locations and shadowy compositions that rival anything in American film noir, Clouzot gives plausible alibis to the prime suspects--a dancehall chanteuse, her suspicious husband, and a fashionable lesbian photographer--while a seasoned detective (played to perfection by Louis Jouvet) efficiently sorts through the clues. Anyone expecting thrills will be disappointed: Clouzot's fascination with human behavior prevails, and this subtle mix of motives and secrets is delicately balanced with underworld cynicism and a compassionate understanding of the human heart. --Jeff Shannon
- New high-definition transfer with improved subtitle translation
- Collection of intimate interview excerpts from French Television with director Henri-Georges Clouzot and key actors filmed in 1971
- Poster gallery
- New essay by Luc Sante
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Top customer reviews
Jenny Martineau (Suzy Delair) is an ambitious singer at music halls and supper clubs. She's a flirt, she's sees nothing too wrong with using a bit of sex as well as talent to get a contract. Her stage name is Jenny Latour. And she really loves her husband, Maurice Martineau (Bernard Blier). Martineau is something of a sad sack. He's her accompanist and arranger. He's a bit balding, a bit chubby and jealous to a fault. Then we have their neighbor, the photographer Dora Monnier (Simone Renant). She's blond, gorgeous (think of Rita Hayworth) and capable. She and Martineau have been friends since they were children together. Dora, however, is definitely not thinking just of friendship when she looks at Jenny. Then comes along Georges Brignon (Charles Dullin), a wizened, rich and dirty old man, who often has Dora take "art" photographs of his young female proteges whom he poses himself. He offers a contract for a film to Jenny, and suggests a dinner at his home to discuss the details. Jenny is more than willing. Maurice is furious and forbids it. Jenny shouts right back at him, "You're jealous of the rich! Well, I want my share of their dough. I'm all for royalty!" "You're dad was a laborer," Maurice shouts back. "So what? Under Louis XV, I'd have been Madame de Pompadour! I'd have heated up their tights!"
And after Brignon is found dead with a smashed champagne bottle next to his bleeding skull, there's Dora to try to make things safe for Jenny. But wait. Inspector Antoine gets the case. Antoine (Louis Jouvet) is a tall, tired, middle-aged bachelor with sore feet. He has seen it all. He served in "the colonies" with the Foreign Legion and returned with an adopted baby and malaria. The child is now about eight-years old and Antoine dotes on him. One of the first things Antoine discovers is not only did someone brain Brignon with a bottle, someone shot him in the heart. Who did it? Before long Jenny, Maurice and Dora all are making up alibis, lying and, at one or another point, confessing. How will Antoine discover the murderer? Will we have a chance to see some great music hall songs sung by Jenny Latour? Everything becomes clear, but only with time and Detective Antoine's persistence. We are left with many kinds of love leading to all kinds of motives, from hair-trigger jealousy to longing glances...and all played with a nice mixture of Gallic amusement.
Clouzot takes us to a Paris of seedy but not threatening neighborhoods, to downtrodden music publishers where tunes are played on the piano for buyers, to restaurants with discrete private dining rooms. Most of all, he takes us to the music hall where Jenny Latour often performs. We can see Jenny as she sings, with couples in the seats and single men wearing their coats and hats in standing room. And everyone smokes. The first third of the film, in fact, takes place largely in this milieu. With Jenny singing about "Her petite tra-la-la, her sweet tra-la-la," we follow her from trying out the song at the publishers to a rehearsal to a saucy performance with Jenny in a feathered hat, a corset, gartered stockings and not much else.
Delair, Blier and Renant all do wonderful jobs, but it Louis Jouvet who holds everything together. He was a marvelous actor who disliked making films. The stage was his world, and he took on films only if he happened to like the director and to make money to finance his stage work. Jouvet was tall with a long face and broad cheekbones. He was not conventionally handsome but he had what it takes to dominate a scene. For a look at how skillfully he could play comedy, watch him in Drole de Drame. He's a fascinating actor. At one point he says, "I've taken a liking to you, Miss Dora Monnier." "Me?" she asks. "Yes. Because you and I are two of a kind. When it comes to women, we'll never have a chance." Jouvet brings all kinds of nuances to that line, from rueful regret to a gentle amusement.
The Criterion release of Quai des Orfevres has an excellent black-and-white transfer, with deep blacks and rich grays. There is a short interview with Clouzot and another interview with Blier, Renant and Delair. The case holds a fold-out which gives film details and a solid essay about the film. Most importantly, on the other side it gives us a full-length photo of Jenny in her small and effective costume.
The film really kicks into life with the arrival of Luis Jouvet's police inspector, a rather wonderful creation half Alistair Sim in Green for Danger and half world-weary Maigret with better dialog. In a neat running gag, his investigation is constantly conducted at the top of his voice against chaos and noise, whether it be the noisy typewriters of the police station or a loud rehearsal. The police station itself is a wonderfully realistic creation, a wealth of chaotic and telling small details that makes Steve Bocchco's once revolutionary 80's US cop shows look like antiquated museum pieces by comparison.
If Suzy Delair is a rather unconvincing femme fatale, the supporting cast more than compensate, with the beautiful Simone Renant a standout as the lesbian photographer in love with her from afar and constantly mistaken for Blier's lover by Delair and other interested parties (only Jouvet, similarly unlucky with women, understands and genuinely sympathises). With great black and white photography by Armand Thirard, this is a terrific little thriller with a nice twist ending and a lovely scene with a cab driver reluctantly identifying Renant in a police station. (Trivia note: Pierre Larquey, who played the playfully philosophical Dr Vorzet in Le Corbeau, turns up in smaller roles as a cab-driver in both Quai and Les Espions.)
The Criterion DVD is quite superb - great picture quality plus an illuminating extract from a French TV show featuring interviews with Clouzot, Blier and Renant.
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The plot revolves around a murder but everything else is ambiguous to the viewer and even to the...Read more
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