Quai des Orfèvres [DVD]
Director : Henri-Georges Clouzot
Screenplay : Henri-Georges Clouzot & Jean Ferry (based on the novel Legitime Defense by Stanislas-André Steeman)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1947
Stars : Suzy Delair (Marguerite Martineau, aka Jenny Lamour), Bernard Blier (Maurice Martineau), Louis Jouvet (Inspector Antoine), Simone Renant (Dora Monier), Jean Daurand (Detective Picard), Pierre Larquey (Emile Lafour, cab driver), René Blancard (Police Commissioner), Robert Dalban (Paulo, the car thief), Charles Dullin (Georges Brignon)
Mistrust and sexual jealousy are the two poisons that fuel that plot of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Quai des Orfèvres, an early French film noir that was originally released in the U.S. under the title Jenny Lamour. The story carries the trademark’s of Clouzot’s generally pessimistic outlook on human nature, although it is carried off with a sense of humor and a richness of character that relieves some of the thematic burden and features a happy denouement that seems almost misplaced.
Taking place in postwar France, the story is set in the world of back alleys and vaudeville houses where animal acts, trapeze artists, and young singers trying to get their big break dominate the stage. One of those singers is Marguerite Martineau, a.k.a. Jenny Lamour (Suzy Delair, Clouzot’s partner in real life), a talented singer who is dedicated to her jealous slouch of a husband, Maurice (Bernard Blier), although her tendency to flirt suggests otherwise. Maurice is particularly incensed that Jenny entertains the advances of Georges Brignon (Charles Dullin), a hunchback movie producer who is the very epitome of the dirty old man. Brignon has promised Jenny a role in a movie, but he clearly has other plans for her, as well. Meanwhile, Jenny is also looked after by Dora (Simone Renant), a sweet-natured photographer who is also close friends with Maurice (and whose barely disguised lesbianism adds a further dimension to her interactions with the couple).
Being a film noir, this naturally leads to a murder, which brings in the film’s true protagonist, the unforgettable Inspector Antoine (Louis Jouvet), a seasoned pro who gets to the bottom of things not through Sherlock Holmes-like brilliance, but by sheer perseverance. Antoine is a delightfully crabby character; he never breaks into a smile except when dealing with his adopted son, a black teenager he picked up during his stint in the Foreign Legion. His interactions with the boy add a touch of sentiment to an otherwise all-business character.
Clouzot spends the first half of the film with Jenny and Maurice, developing the parameters of their oddball marriage (they fight as passionately as they make love, and one of the film’s central jokes is that the seemingly feeble Maurice is dynamite in the sack, according to Jenny). We don’t see the murder itself take place, but we know who is responsible. But, that’s not enough, as two other characters also arrive on the murder scene for different reasons, thus putting themselves in danger of being accused of doing the deed.
The rest of the story unfolds in Antoine’s investigation, the suspense deriving from the fact that we know (or, at least, think we know) who did it. Watching Antoine inch closer and closer to the truth is an absorbing, gripping process, even as Maurice and Jenny and Dora concoct story after story to hide their involvement. The actual plot mechanics are somewhat rudimentary, mostly because Clouzot is primarily interested in the characters and how the events affect them. Most of these characters are “losers” in the conventional sense, but we develop an easy affection for them and their plight.
In typical noir fashion, all of this takes place in a shadowy world beautifully captured by cinematographer Armand Thirard (who shot eight of Clouzot’s films over the years), punctuated by a lively musical score by Francis López. Although it has been largely forgotten in the U.S. since its release 50 years ago, Quai des Orfèvres stands, along with Wages of Fear (1950) and Diabolique (1955), as one of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s greatest films, an influential thriller that is also a great character study.
|Quai des Orfèvres Criterion Collection DVD|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection / Home Vision Entertainment|
|Release Date||May 27, 2003|
| 1.33:1 (Academy Aspect Ratio)|
Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Quai des Orfèvres looks absolutely gorgeous. The high-definition transfer on this DVD was taken from a new 35mm fine-grain print struck from the original negative and further cleaned up using the MTI Digital Restoration System. The image is crisp and full of rich detail, with only a smattering of scratches here and there. Contrast is strong and black levels are consistently solid. A first-rate transfer.
|French Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural |
The monaural soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from a 35mm optical soundtrack print and then digitally restored. The resulting soundtrack is bright and clear, without any audible hiss.
| 1971 TV interview with director Henri-Georges Clouzot and actors Bernard Blier, Simone Renant, and Suzy Delair|
In this 18-minute interview originally recorded for a French TV show in 1971, Clouzot and the film’s three main stars discuss the making of Quai des Orfèvres. Of particular interest here is Clouzot’s clear disdain for the film’s source novel and the actors being prodded by the interviewer to talk about Clouzot’s tendency to use violent means to get performances from his actors (they are remarkably laid-back about it, with Blier laughing about how Clouzot slapped him at one point). Presented in 1.33:1.
Original theatrical trailer
Essay by Luc Sante
Copyright © 2003 James Kendrick