Viser innlegg med etiketten stephane audran. Vis alle innlegg
Viser innlegg med etiketten stephane audran. Vis alle innlegg

onsdag 5. november 2008

The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun/La dame dans l'auto avec des lunettes et un fusil

France, 1970

Directed by Anatole Litvak

Samantha Eggar, John McEnery, Oliver Reed, Stephane Audran, Billie Dixon, Bernard Fresson, Yves Pignot, Marcel Bozzuffi

Having previously looked at and been impressed by the French thriller The Sleeping Car Murder (1965), based on the novel of Sébastien Japrisot, it felt appropriate to take a closer look at The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun, another French thriller based on a Japrisot novel.

The lovely Samantha Eggar stars as Dany Lang, an attractive English secretary who works in an international ad agency in Paris. Being short-sighted, Dany always wears big, fashionable (and dark) 1960s-style glasses.

The lady with the dark glasses

During a hectic work period, Dany's boss, Michael Caldwell (Oliver Reed), asks her if she'd mind working overnight at his home. Being the faithful employee, Dany agrees and accompanies Michael back to his house. There she also meets with Michael's attractive wife, Anita (Stephane Audran). As it turns out, Anita used to be friends with Dany a long time ago, although their friendship fizzled out as soon as Anita climbed up the social ladder by marrying Michael. The former friends' reunion is rather awkward as they just barely exchange a few phrases, but the encounter triggers a flashback in Dany – showing how Anita was apparently prone to sleeping around a lot before she met Michael.

The next day, Michael, Anita and their little daughter are going away on a trip and ask Dany to drive them to the airport in their fancy, white convertible and then take the car back and park it at their house. Somewhat reluctant as she's never driven the car before, Dany nevertheless agrees and drops them off at the airport. But as she's about to drive back, Dany gets off in the wrong lane and finds herself heading south - towards the Riviera - instead. Figuring she might as well enjoy this fancy car while she has the chance, she impulsively drives on.

The lady in the car

But soon strange things start to happen. Everywhere Dany goes, she is recognized by complete strangers who all claim to have met her there before. But Dany is certain that she has never been in the south of France before or met any of these people. It's as if she's retracing a route she has never taken. Things turn more sinister when Dany stops at a gas station to use the bathroom. Shortly afterwards, the gas station attendant hears Dany's screams coming from the bathroom. He rushes to find her lying hurt on the floor – claiming a stranger attacked her and viciously hurt her hand. Her hand has to be bandaged but the gas station employees all claim that Dany has recently been at the gas station before and that her hand was already bandaged then. Things start to turn stranger and stranger. What is actually going on? Is there a plot to drive Dany mad? Is she mad already? Or has she experienced some sort of trauma that has given her partial amnesia?

Sébastien Japrisot's plot is certainly intriguing enough and The Lady in the Car is off to a good start, with a promising set-up and a mystery that grabs our attention. Unfortunately, the film fails to make good on its promise and start losing focus and running out of steam just one third into its running time. The mystery of why Dany is being recognized in places she's never been to before and the effective aura of strangeness that is present during the first half hour or so eventually takes a backseat when Dany encounters an obnoxious hitchhiker named Philippe (played by John McEnery) and for no good reason takes him along with her, lets him in on her story and goes to bed with him. This - along with a lot Dany's subsequent actions - comes across as rather implausible, and, worse yet, the couple has little to no discernible chemistry. The Philippe character is merely an annoyance factor that steals focus.

The film never really recovers from this, although it eventually gets its plot back on track and throws in a few interesting moments that help keep our interest up until all the elaborate details are revealed in the not quite successful denouement. To say that the final explanation requires a certain suspension of disbelief is a vast understatement but it works to a certain degree at least because Japrisot's intricate plot is fascinating, if somewhat unconvincing. The screenplay was written by Japrisot himself together with the director, Ukraine-born filmmaker Anatole Litvak, but somehow their joint efforts in transferring Japrisot's story to the film medium doesn't work all that well. The structuring of the story and a slow pacing is part of the problem - another one is Litvak's direction. Litvak was certainly no stranger to thrillers and had a successful Hollywood career; churning out such well-received thrillers as Sorry, Wrong Number and The Snake Pit (both 1948), and gaining an Oscar nomination for best director with the latter. By the time he made The Lady in the Car, though, Litvak was 68 years old and it was to become his final film. It was hardly a good swansong for Litvak as he just doesn't manage to muster up the kind of thrills or enthusiasm that the story requires in order to work.

The book the film is based on

What Litvak does succeed in, however, is capturing that late 1960s/early 1970s flavor very well, with plenty of chic fashions, some Mario Bava-style lighting and a delightful Michel Legrand score, which includes the catchy song "On the Road", performed by Petula Clark.

The film's soundtrack release

It's also evident that the film is atmospheric and visually impressive even though the only English-language version that appears to be in circulation is a soft, fuzzy-looking print with an overly reddish image that does absolutely no justice to the film's color scheme. But even in this print, Claude Renoir's cinematography is striking and one can sense the remnants of a very colorful and stylishly shot film. No doubt, a pristine-looking print would make the film a far more aesthetically pleasing experience and probably help smooth over some of the flaws in the storytelling.

Shots such as these make one long for a good-looking print of the film

Another asset for the film is the beautiful British actress Samantha Eggar in her first brush with so-called Euro cult territory - she'd go on to more success with her subsequent Euro efforts, making Light at the Edge of the World (1971) in Spain and The Etruscan Kills Again (1972) in Italy. Eggar's performance here is quite impressive and she does a terrific and convincing job as the increasingly confused Dany. While some of Dany's motivations and actions seem rather illogical, this is the fault of the writing and not Eggar, who does the best she can with the material and makes sure we still believe in the character even when she's acting implausible.

None of the other cast members are given too much to do but the always welcome Oliver Reed, who would reunite with Eggar nine years later in David Cronenberg's The Brood (1979), does an impressive job with his limited screen time. So does the exquisite Stephane Audran (better remembered for her work in the thrillers of her husband Claude Chabrol) as Reed's wife. John McEnery on the other hand is extremely annoying as the hitchhiking Philippe and the film had been better off had his character been cut from the narrative altogether.

While far from a perfect film, The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun has its memorable moments and a strong leading performance by Samantha Eggar. Those wanting to see a really good thriller based on the writings of Sébastien Japrisot should start with The Sleeping Car Murder instead but this one is worth a look too. Now, if someone could just release a good-looking version of the film - I'm certain it would make the film far more enjoyable.

© 2008 Johan Melle

The cast:

Samantha Eggar as Dany Lang

John McEnery as Philippe

Oliver Reed as Michael Caldwell

Stephane Audran as Anita Caldwell

Billie Dixon as Dany's colleague

Bernard Fresson as Jean

Marcel Bozzuffi as Gas station attendant

Yves Pignot as Batistin

fredag 18. april 2008

Without Apparent Motive/Sans mobile apparent

France/Italy, 1971

Directed by Philippe Labro

Jean-Louis Trintignant, Dominique Sanda, Carla Gravina, Sacha Distel, Paul Crauchet, Laura Antonelli, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Stephane Audran, Gilles Segal, Esmeralda Ruspoli, André Falcon, Erich Segal, Jean-Jacques Delbo, Michel Bardinet

In the French Riviera, wealthy industrialist Tony Forest (Michel Bardinet) is shot to death in the street by a killer using a telescopic rifle with a silencer. The daring crime is committed in broad daylight with Forest surrounded by several friends. Inspector Carella (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is assigned to the case but isn’t able to find a motive behind the bold killing.

The killer claims his first victim

Not long afterwards, a similar murder is committed when a man on a diving board – about to jump into a hotel swimming pool – is shot dead. He plunges into the pool with a big splash and the other bathers scream in horror as they notice blood flowing from his floating corpse.

Death in the swimming pool

A third victim follows; being shot to death while seated out on his balcony together with an elderly client.

The killer must strike again

Inspector Carella is baffled by the mysterious murders as there doesn’t appear to be any connection between the three victims. A small hope arrives when the first victim’s beautiful stepdaughter, Sandra (Dominique Sanda), starts snooping through her stepfather’s belongings and discovers a small pocket diary, which she shows to Carella. Flipping through the diary, which contains a list of phone numbers for the dead man’s mistresses, Carella discovers that one of them is Jocelyne Rocca (Carla Gravina), a woman who Carella himself has recently been romantically involved with.

Sandra and Carella discover an important clue

Carella calls Jocelyne and invites her over to his apartment, which she gladly accepts - thinking he is out to rekindle their relationship. She shows up and it is revealed that she had ties to all three victims. However, once Jocelyne realizes she has been invited for investigative reasons rather than romance, she hurriedly leaves the apartment and runs out into the open, sun-drenched streets. Carella rushes after her but before he is able to catch up, shots ring out and Jocelyne slumps lifeless to the ground...

Carella loses his biggest lead before she can reveal anything...

For someone like myself, who frequently finds French thrillers to be too detached, slow-moving and pretentious to really enjoy, Without Apparent Motive comes as a genuinely pleasant surprise. The director, Philippe Labro, knows how to make a suspense film and musters up effective tension and thrills. The plot – adapted from Ed McBain’s pulp novel Ten Plus One – is tight and solid; with a complex central mystery that really grabs the viewer’s attention.

Although the actual story is clearly inspired by film noir – with Trintignant playing a Bogart-style detective – Labro makes the inspired choice of unfolding the film in the sunny French Riviera rather than the classical dark noir-ish locations one might expect. The sun-drenched, open city streets are very picturesque but Labro manages to make them feel distinctly sinister. Outside, no place feels safe as there are big buildings everywhere; all of them being potential hiding places for the ruthless killer who seems able to strike just about anywhere. This creates a masterful sense of tension and paranoia – heightened Ennio Morricone’s pulsating, suspenseful musical score.

The killer is everywhere and no place is safe...

The violence is relatively mild but the killings are nevertheless quite effective in their simplicity. The third victim’s death is particularly memorable as the poor victim actually spots the bright sun reflected in his assassin’s rifle lens but doesn’t have time to do a thing about it because the bullets reach his heart just an instant later.

But Without Apparent Motive isn’t without its faults. The mystery is good but the actual denouement isn’t entirely satisfying – you’ll probably be able to figure out who the killer is before the film reveals it. The film also fizzles out a tad towards the end but the final scene (after the killer has been revealed) is quite memorable.

The highly impressive cast list consists of some of the best European actors of the time, with Jean-Louis Trintignant making a fine lead as Inspector Carella. He is convincing in his hard-boiled cop routine but Carella is also portrayed as a more humane character that genuinely cares for Jocelyne, whose death leaves lasting impact on him. He is haunted by a feeling of guilt throughout the rest of the film – with Jocelyne’s shooting and his inability to prevent it flashing before his eyes numerous times. This effectively gives Carella a personal involvement in the crime he is investigating, and makes the character more interesting. Jean-Louis Trintignant does a great job of bringing the tormented cop to life, and also gets to work up a good sweat as must do his fair share of dodging bullets and running through the streets.

Trintignant the action hero

Then there’s the stunning female cast. Dominique Sanda, fresh from Bertolucci’s The Conformist (1970), looks exquisite and has great chemistry with Trintignant. However, her character could have been made a tad more substantial. Carla Gravina, a rather serious Italian actress who is best known to Euro cult fans as the possessed leading lady in Alberto De Martino’s Exorcist rip-off The Antichrist (1974), is excellent as the doomed ex-mistress. Like Dominique Sanda – she has strong chemistry with Trintignant; with their conversation right before her death being one of the key scenes in the film. I love that hurtful look of disappointment in her eyes when she realizes Trintignant’s reasons for contacting her wasn’t to get back together like she had thought. Through the use of her eyes alone, Gravina is able to silently emote a feeling of hurt in an understated, convincing way.

Trintignant knows his way around the ladies

The doomed lovers

It’s also good to see the wonderful Jean-Pierre Marielle – memorable as the humorous gay detective in Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) – as another typically fine-mannered gentleman but the real surprise here is the gorgeous Laura Antonelli (a couple of years before she became a huge star and sex symbol) in an atypical role as a traumatized woman who is somehow linked to the sniper killings. Also on board is the wonderful Stephane Audran in a small but important role as a woman tied to the mystery. Appropriately enough, her character is named Hélène – a nifty reference to the many characters named Hélène she played in various thrillers directed by famed director Claude Chabrol (her husband for many years). Audran also sports a most jaw-dropping cleavage and it’s quite amusing to watch Trintignant (who had been Audran’s real-life husband many years earlier) bluntly staring at her cleavage.

Trintignant gives his real-life ex-wife's rack a look of approval

A few other familiar faces pop up too, including Michel Bardinet from Euro flicks like The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968), An Ideal Place to Kill (1971) and Revolver (1973) as the first victim, and Italian actress Esmeralda Ruspoli from Kriminal (1966) and The True and the False (1972) as Bardinet’s wife but, unfortunately, they get very, very little to do.

All in all, Without Apparent Motive is one of the best French thrillers of the 1970s thanks to Philippe Labro’s confident direction, a strong story and an excellent cast. Well worth watching!

© 2008 Johan Melle

The cast:

Jean-Louis Trintignant as Inspector Carella

Dominique Sanda as Sandra Forest

Carla Gravina as Jocelyne Rocca

Sacha Distel as Julien Sabirnou

Paul Crauchet as Francis Palombo

Laura Antonelli as Juliette Vaudreuil

Jean-Pierre Marielle as Perry Rupert-Foote

Stephane Audran as Hélène Vallée

Gilles Segal as Di Bozzo

Esmeralda Ruspoli as Madame Forest

André Falcon as The Mayor

Erich Segal as Hans Kleinberg

Jean-Jacques Delbo as The Commissioner

Michel Bardinet as Tony Forest

Alexis Sellan as Pierre Barroyer