Army of Shadows

Lino Ventura as Philippe Gerbier

Jean-Pierre Melville is slightly off his turf in 1969’s Army of Shadows (aka L’Armée des Ombres). No trenchcoat-wearing criminals driving American cars. Instead he gives us a slice through the activities of the French Resistance during the Second World War. Like all his late-era film, from 1966’s Le Deuxième Souffle to 1972’s Un Flic, Army of Shadows is an absolute must-see. Joseph Kessel, who wrote the original book, had been in the Resistance himself and based it on his own experiences. Melville, too, had been a member and is keen to present a nuts-and-bolts, warts-and-all portrait of the men and women who risked everything to help rid their country of the Nazi invader. … Read more

Casque d’Or

Manda and Marie aka Casque d'Or

Jacques Becker’s Casque d’Or perfectly illustrates why old-school Becker was held in such high regard by the tyros of France’s New Wave, who generally dismissed all French moviemakers before themselves as “vile” and “grotesque”. Becker was one of a very select band (including Jean Renoir and Jacques Tati) who escaped unscathed and with reputations intact, if not enhanced. Made in 1952, the antediluvian era if you were Truffaut or Godard, Becker’s story concerns itself with Marie (Simone Signoret), a whore with a heart of gold, who winds up caught between two men – ex-con carpenter Georges Manda (Serge Reggiani) and local crime boss Félix Leca (Claude Dauphin), a threeway that will eventually end … Read more

Les Diaboliques

Christina and Nicole

Les Diaboliques is the film that Alfred Hitchcock missed out on making after getting pipped to the post by another master of suspense, Henri-Georges Clouzot. If the story is true, Clouzot stayed up all night reading the original novel, Celle qui n’était plus, and then called writers Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac the next morning, desperate to have the rights. By the time Hitchcock rang a few hours later those rights were no longer available. Hitchcock did not walk away entirely empty handed. Boileau and Narcejac went on to write D’Entre les Morts for him, which he turned into Vertigo, currently ranked at number one in the Sight & Sound 100 Greatest Films … Read more

The Deadly Affair

Charles Dobbs on the phone

1966’s The Deadly Affair repeats the formula of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold – John Le Carré story, top British and European cast, London locations, great US director, ace British cinematographer, soundtrack by a big name – and if it isn’t quite up there with the 1965 film, it’s still one of the very best Le Carré adaptations. It takes Le Carré’s first novel, A Call for the Dead, slaps a less sombre, more bums-on-seats title on it and also renames Le Carré’s masterspy George Smiley, as Charles Dobbs (Paramount, who had made The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, “owned” the Smiley name). Though in all important respects this is … Read more

Les Diaboliques

Simone Signoret and Vera Clouzot in Les Diaboliques

If you’re working yourself towards film-buffery, you really need to have seen something by master of suspense Henri-Georges Clouzot – “the French Hitchcock” he is often called, when Jacques Deray or Claude Chabrol aren’t using the sobriquet. You may already have seen the masterful The Wages of Fear, Clouzot’s 1953 tale of gelignite being driven across the South American jungle. It’s well worth adding Les Diaboliques, 1954’s tale of the murder most horrid – drugged, drowned – of a brutish husband by a fragile wife (Vera Clouzot) and his scheming mistress (Simone Signoret, none better). Job done, except the body keeps disappearing. Less a whodunit, more a wheresitgone, Les Diaboliques also strongly prefigures … Read more