Quai des Orfevres
Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
Written by Henri-Georges Clouzot and Jean Ferry from the novel “Legitime Defense” by Stanislas-André Steeman
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
This may just be the least misanthropic of all Clouzot’s thrillers. As usual, though, it is an engrossing look at the underbelly of French life through the cynical eyes of a master.
Jenny Lamour (Suzy Delair) is a music hall singer with a figure and attitude that could really take her places. Her husband is also her accompanist. Maurice (Bernard Blier) is a diffident non-descript little man, who is extremely possessive of his wife. Maurice and Jenny live in the same building as Dora (Simone Renent), a beautiful blonde still photographer who is not above shooting a little soft porn on the side. Dora is a friend to both of the spouses. We learn that, despite Jenny’s willingness to use her charms to get what she wants, she and Maurice enjoy quite a torrid marital relationship and Jenny is rather jealous of Dora as well.
The story really begins when a randy old producer expresses interest in signing Jenny for the movies. He insists on private tete-a-tetes to seal the deal. The first is to take place over lunch, but Maurice bursts in and threatens to kill the man if he ever catches him with his wife. Jenny later tries to evade Maurice by claiming she is going away to visit her sick grandmother. Maurice sees through the ruse and sets up an elaborate alibi to cover his murder scheme. But when Maurice arrives at the man’s apartment, he is already dead.
The murder case is assigned to the rumpled, wily Inspector Antoine (Louis Jouvert), who would like nothing better than to spend the Christmas holiday with his young son. The rest of the story follows the progress of the investigation as the three friends get in deeper and deeper by trying to protect each other.
This film had me from the get go with its clever opening in which Clouzot economically introduces his characters and their world through the development of a song from creation to performance (see clip). I just love the way the director use of detail to tell his stories and the brilliant cutting and composition of his films. Something wonderful must have happened to Clouzot, or maybe he was just basking in relief from having his post-war ban removed. Any way, every single character is basically sympathetic and human here. I rather missed the malevolence. Recommended.