Two Cats and a Mouse

When a movie is released under various titles it usually means there are problems. It could be confusion over how to market it or a simple case of a movie that doesn’t fit clearly into any designated genre or maybe it’s a star-driven, major studio release that’s too quirky for the average moviegoer but yields enough curiosity value to inspire various promotional approaches to finding the right audience. All of these could apply to Joy House (1964), an international production based on a pulp fiction paperback by American author Day Keene and filmed on the Riviera near Nice. It stars English-speaking (Lola Albright, Jane Fonda, Sorrell Booke, George Gaynes of Tootsie fame) and French-speaking actors (Alain Delon, Andre Oumansky, Annette Poivre, Marc Mazza) and is also known as The Love Cage and Les Felins (the original French title). Joy House was not a popular success at the time (most critics were unkind in their coverage) but it is a favorite film of mine, flaws and all.   Continue reading

Comic Strip Addiction

If you went by title alone, Alain Jessua’s Jeu de Massacre (released as The Killing Game in the U.S. and as Comic Book Hero in other territories) suggests it might be a murder mystery or a James Bond-like spy thriller which was still in vogue at the time of the film’s release in 1967. Instead, the film is a witty black comedy about the addictive power of pulp fiction – in this case, a superhero comic book – to ignite dangerous fantasies in readers whose grasp on reality is fragile.   Continue reading

Brigitte Bardot Plays Herself

Before he had reached the age of thirty, French director Louis Malle (born in 1932) had already emerged as one of his country’s most critically acclaimed and internationally recognized filmmakers on the basis of his first three films – The Oscar®-winning documentary, The Silent World (1956), which he co-directed with Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the atmospheric noir Elevator to the Gallows (1958), and the controversial adultery drama, The Lovers (1958). Many film critics felt that his fourth film, Zazie dans le metro (1960), based on the novel by Raymond Queneau, was his most adventurous and impressive work to date but it failed to generate ticket sales and was a costly failure. Due to this, Malle felt pressured to make a more commercial feature and the result was A Very Private Affair (1962, French title Vie privée), starring Brigitte Bardot.   Continue reading

In the Shadows of the OAS

L'Insoumis (1964)L’insoumis (1964) aka The Unvanquished is a relatively unknown but deeply compelling and haunting French film from director Alain Cavalier that aired several years ago on TCM in an English language version titled Have I the Right to Kill? (It was originally distributed by MGM in the U.S.) Shot in glorious black and white by master cinematographer Claude Renoir, the film plays like a politically-charged film noir and it could easily be the best of Alain Delon’s early performances. In the other key role, Lea Massari, the beautiful Italian actress who is best known as the warm, charismatic mother in Louis Malle’s Murmur of the Heart (1971), has rarely been more appealing.  Continue reading

Fade to White

Charles Denner retreats from the world in Life Upside Down (1964), directed by Alain Jessua

Charles Denner retreats from the world in Life Upside Down (1964), directed by Alain Jessua

Films that explore mental illness, especially Hollywood productions such as The Snake Pit, The Three Faces of Eve and A Brilliant Mind, usually tend to be heavy on the histrionics providing highly dramatic showcases and Oscar award opportunities for actors. But a descent into madness isn’t always signaled by wildly disruptive or overwrought behavior from the afflicted. Sometimes the illness can creep up slowly by degrees and pass for something more fleeting and subtle that avoids detection during the early stages. Life Upside Down (La vie à l’envers), directed by Alain Jessua, is a remarkable example of this, presenting a man who goes quietly mad while interpreting his erratic behavior as a profound new self-awareness.     Continue reading

Rififi in Tokyo

Rififi in Tokyo poster

Rififi in Tokyo poster

RIFIFI, Jules Dassin’s quintessential 1955 noir/heist thriller, had quite an impact on the European crime movie genre in its day though most of its imitators or similarly inspired creations rarely found distribution in the U.S. except as English-dubbed second features in limited runs in a few major cities like New York. And I have yet to read of any major film critics or movie buffs like Quentin Tarantino championing any of the Rififi knockoffs. But for anyone with a soft spot for heist films, you might enjoy sampling some of these lesser efforts, particularly RIFIFI IN TOKYO (1963).      Continue reading