Movie Diary 3/24/2020

quaidesoQuai des Orfèvres (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1947). A lot of great dirty atmosphere in Clouzot’s worldly murder story, which features the late Suzy Delair (who just died at age 102). Here are some notes I made on the film when it was re-released in 2003 (mild spoilers here):

Henri-Georges Clouzot in noir territory. Songbird Jenny Lamour (Suzy Delair, Clouzot’s mistress) loves her round, balding pianist husband Maurice Martineau (Bernard Blier), and he’s jealous of every man who pays attention to her. There are many. She flirts back, and uses men to advance her career, yet she needs the husband and alludes to their very satisfactory sex life; this is in a conversation with lesbian photographer Dora (Simone Renant), who also loves her. One night Jenny goes to the home of a repulsive hunchback producer-mogul (the unsavory Charles Dullin, who likes to photograph his protegés at Dora’s, nude – or almost nude – “Not the shoes. Never the shoes,” he says to a woman about to take them off), and he ends up dead. Maurice realizes she’s there, and when he arrives with gun in hand, the man is already a stiff. Dora shows up too, after Jenny goes to her place and then realizes she’s forgotten her fox fur. At that moment we meet—in a series of bravura, aria-like scenes—the police detective played by Louis Jouvet. He has a mixed-race child from his years in the Foreign Legion, an aversion to women (or resignation that his mug will not bring them running), and a dogged single-mindedness about cracking the case. Jouvet absolutely rules the policier aspects of the picture, and his relationships with various characters are exactly drawn:  to Dora, he shrugs in lovelorn fellowship, “When it comes to women, we’ll never have a chance.” The worlds of music hall and police headquarters are beautifully drawn, down to little characters—a cabbie (Pierre Larquey) who hates cops, doesn’t want to give them the clue that he has, but reluctantly does so when blackmailed, gently apologizes to Dora when he must identify her in a line-up. Some great outré touches:  in an empty restaurant during the day, Jouvet’s interrogation of Jenny and Maurice is played against a band madly and loudly rehearsing their music. Later he uses a scrap of paper with an incriminating address written on it as a light for his pipe, to Maurice’s exasperation. Lots of forced perspective, harsh lighting, cramped spaces. Pauline Kael on Suzy Delair:  “When this voluptuous slut sings ‘Avec son Tra-la-la,’ she may make you wonder if the higher things in life are worth the trouble.” On some sort of technical level, it seems odd that the revelation of the killer involves a character who hasn’t been set up all that well. But it makes the sweet ending possible—and imagine the Martineau’s marriage as it ages.