Quai Des Orfevres

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					          It's the Address of the Police Station, March 22, 2011


This review is from: Quai des Orfevres - Criterion Collection (DVD)
"Quai des Orfevres," (1947), is another black and white classic of the French cinema: an
atmospheric, set in dark and gritty post-war Paris, murder mystery. It comes to us under the
aegis of Henri-Georges Clouzot, who adapted the movie from a novel by Stanislas-André
Steeman, wrote its dialog and directed it. Clouzot also adapted and wrote the dialogue for
another black and white French classic, Le Corbeau (The Raven) - Criterion Collection
(1943). He is furthermore credited with two of the greatest, most honored black and white
French thrillers of all time: namely, adaptation, dialog and direction for The Wages of Fear -
Criterion Collection, (1953); and scenario, dialog and direction for Diabolique (The Criterion
Collection) Spine #35), (1955), both of which movies are honored worldwide. So obviously,
attention must be paid to this murder mystery of his, a film I must admit I found rather odd.

In a brisk 106 minutes, Clouzot introduces us to the world of the Paris music hall as it existed
in 1947, before television was to kill it, though probably no one knew it at the time. But
Clouzot might have seen it coming. At any rate, cutesy, popular singer Marguerite
Chauffournier Martineau, aka Jenny Lamour, (played by Suzy Delair) is a comer, building
her career, but she doesn't know that she's on the brink of achieving notoriety - however, not
as a performer. Instead, she gets herself embroiled in a tale of intrigue that involves her
jealous husband and accompanist, Maurice (Bernard Blier), having possibly murdering a
man. Also muddying the waters is their mutual, beautiful photographer friend who lives in
their building, Dora Monier, played by Simone Renant. Until, in comes Insp. Antoine (Louis
Jouvet) to sort it all out for you.

All four of these performers were big stars at the time in France, though Jouvet was the
biggest dramatic star. Blier was most popular as a comic at the time: this was his first serious
role. As Maurice Martineau, in addition to being his wife's accompanist, he was a
pianist/composer, who worked as what we would have called a song plugger, in a firm that
we would describe as a Tin Pan Alley shop. (The shop, Leopardi's, boasts a picture on the
wall of the ever-beloved performer Maurice Chevalier, if you can catch it). Be that as it may,
Maurice's wife Marguerite is quite a pretty girl, though some contemporary viewers may find
her behavior unbearable; but it's easy to see why he would be jealous of her. However, the
photographer Dora, who has known him since their childhood, is, for my money, rather more
beautiful than his wife. But, contemporary audiences were meant to regard her sexuality as
ambiguous, and perhaps they did, based upon the facts that she always seemed a little off,
and wore pants. The women are beautifully dressed, in the height of postwar chic, by Jacques
Fath. Director Clouzot gives us some fascinating deep-focus shots, and also finds the
opportunity to haul his cameras around Paris; his three leading characters apparently live
near Les Halles, Paris's great central marketplace for any foodstuffs, now long gone.

Mind you, if you are trying to follow the movie in subtitles, the clues are really sparing.
You've got to pay really close attention to those subtitles - I believe only two sentences give
you any clue as to what's going on.
In an interview with the director Clouzot that comes as an extra to the disk, he quotes Alfred
Hitchcock, famed Anglo-American director of thrillers and mysteries (North by Northwest
(50th Anniversary Edition), Vertigo (Collector's Edition)) to the effect that a murder mystery
plot is just a vessel, and a good one for a movie. But that what matters is what the director
uses to fill the vessel; he'd best be interested in that material, if the audience is going to be. I
found the music hall background interesting, and endlessly perky Marguerite hard to take.
But if you love WAGES, and DIABOLIQUES, it's worth seeing just how Clouzot fills this
vessel. Oh, and by the way, Quai des Orfevres is the address of Inspector Antoine's police
station, an address undoubtedly better known in its time and place.

				
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posted:3/25/2011
language:French
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