Monday, July 24, 2017

SPOTLIGHT ON A MURDERER reviewed

Marianne Koch in dire threat of asphyxiation in SPOTLIGHT ON A MURDERER.


SPOTLIGHT ON A MURDERER
Pleins feux sur l'assassin
1961, Arrow Academy, 1:37:1, 92m (BD/DVD 2 disc set)

Georges Franju's rarely screened follow-up to EYES WITHOUT A FACE reunites him with the ace rewriters of that film, the screenwriting team of Boileau-Narcejac (Pierre and Thomas, respectively), notorious for LES DIABOLIQUES and the novel upon which VERTIGO was based. Here they spice-up the shopworn "Last Will and Testament" premise with an absentee corpse who leaves an especially diabolical will, requiring his abhorrent relatives - the hopeful inheritors of a castle and all its wealth - to live there and maintain its upkeep for five years. This costly sentence goads these n'er-do-wells into setting up the castle as a modern day theater hosting a "sound and light" performance (a kind of externalized radio, telling a story spatially using only projected light and sound effects) at the castle, depicting a legendary murder that took place there in the 15th century, a performance that now becomes the setting for a new series of murders as someone narrows the playing field to beef-up their cut of the inheritance.

It sounds like it couldn't miss, and what's here is attractive and entertaining, but it's also pulled-off with a mildness one doesn't associate with Franju - evidently the fault of interfering, censorious producers. There is some masterful content nevertheless, particularly the initial "sound and light" show (which must have felt wonderful in a darkened theater) and a climactic moment involving a shattered mirror. As Chris Fujiwara notes in an insightful booklet essay, Mario Bava's A BAY OF BLOOD (1971) covers similar ground far more flamboyantly; this film (with a tremendous cast that includes Pierre Brasseur, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Pascale Audret, Dany Saval and Marianne Koch) needed more theatrical panache. I would also go so far as to say that the aspect of modernizing the castle to awaken its ghosts also had more than a little influence on Bava's BARON BLOOD (1972). One does pine for Édith Scob in the Pascale Audret role (as Franju himself did, subsequently), but her absence here made her return all the more welcome in JUDEX (1963).

A typically handsome Arrow presentation, this is a relatively quiet but important release because it finds the company venturing beyond the director's primary titles into the more shadowy passages of his concise but valuable filmography. Your support of this release can only serve to encourage the release of more like it - and we very much need THÉRÈSE DESQUEYROUX, THOMAS THE IMPOSTER and, perhaps most of all, the complete teleseries of L'HOMME SANS VISAGE.

SPOTLIGHT ON A MURDER is short on supplements but does include a marvelous one: a 27m set visit from French television (containing interviews with all the principals, and a priceless moment when we see Franju's humble response to a heartfelt compliment from the interviewer, who speaks for us all). The booklet is especially useful, including the Fujiwara essay, Raymond Durgnat's assessment of the film from his FRANJU book, and an archival CINEMA 61 interview with Boileau-Narcejac and their director, who at the time was looking forward to making FANTOMAS and offers some details about the approach he would have taken. Enjoyable as the Andre Hunebelle films with Jean Marais and Louis de Funés may be, we were robbed.

(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

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