H. G. Clouzot (director)
05 March 2018 (released)
06 March 2018
Quai des Orfevres (basically meaning Headquarters), was French director Henri-George Clouzot’s first film after he had been temporarily banned from filmmaking in 1943 following the unjust controversy of his drama Le corbeau.
Quai des Orfevres (1947) is a worthy ‘comeback’ if you will – a story which starts out among the milieu of the post-war music halls, only to turn into a police procedural drama half way through. It’s within this artistic milieu that couple Jenny Lamour (Suzy Delair) and her husband Maurice Martineau (Bernard Blier) hope to find fame if not fortune: she a talented singer and he a talented piano player (and Jenny’s accompanist) whose usually unfounded jealousy tends to get the better of him. Soon enough the couple secure regular performances at a local music hall but while Maurice seems fairly contend in having found work and thus an outlet for his creativity, the fiercely ambitious Jenny is carved from different wood – always jumping at any opportunity to further her career. One day she has a set of glamorous portraits taken in the photo studio of the attractive Dora Monier (Simone Renant), a friend of the couple. It is here that Jenny’s much longed-for opportunity arrives in the shape of Monsieur Brignon (Charles Dullin), a businessman with considerable influence in the showbiz world and unfortunately also an old lecher… basically, the Harvey Weinstein of its day. Unfazed by Dora’s warnings and dismissing Maurice’s disgruntlement as yet another jealous outburst, Jenny has no qualms in arranging business meetings with Brignon, not least because she really does love her hubby and wouldn’t dream of cheating on him, least of all with Brignon! So ambitious and almost naïve is Jenny that she mentions a lunch meeting with Brignon to her husband, telling him enthusiastically that Brignon promised her to get her into the movies. Maurice, however, won’t have any of this nonsense and makes his way to the restaurant instead where a heated argument between Brignon and Maurice takes place – the latter even shouting a death threat which is overheard by some of the restaurant’s staff.
The following day, knowing full well that from now on she needs to be careful with regards to her business meetings with Brignon, she tells Maurice that her grandmother has suddenly fallen ill and she needs to get a train to the village in which she lives to see after her. In truth, however, she is on her way to Brignon’s lush apartment. As it so happens, a note carelessly left in the theatre makes Maurice realise his wife may not have gone to see her grandfather but see Brignon instead. Boiling with rage, he makes his way to his apartment where he finds Brignon lying on the floor, murdered. Panics-stricken and only too aware of the fact that fingers will now point at him thanks to his threats against Brignon in the restaurant, Maurice runs out of the house but another man who had been hiding in a corner steals his car and drives off. Meanwhile, Jenny takes the late train to her grandmother in a desperate attempt to establish some alibi for her whereabouts on the night of the murder but upon her return she breaks down and confesses to Dora that she killed Brignon by hitting him over the head with a champagne bottle when he tried to fondle her. In her panic she left her mink stole in his house and Dora, who secretly is deeply in love with Jenny, offers to go to Brignon’s house and get Jenny’s mink stole before all hell breaks loose (quite how she manages to get into the house is not explained). Enter Inspector Antoine (Louis Jouvet) who has been assigned with finding the culprit, and of course there are three: foremost Maurice thanks to his death threat towards Brignon and his obvious insistence that he wasn’t in the murdered man’s house on the night of the crime, Jenny because the Inspector finds out that she secretly met with Brignon and may have killed the lech in order to fight off sexual advances, and Dora who seems to know more than cares to reveal… as the three friends desperately try to protect each other, with Jenny having no idea that her husband really was in Brignon’s house the night he was killed and Maurice still believing that his wife was in her grandmother’s place, Inspector Antoine, with his Inspector Clouzot-like methods of investigations, is sure that it will only be a matter of time before one the three suspects crack. However, as the unfortunate circumstances throw Maurice at the very top of the suspect’s list an unexpected turn makes Inspector Antoine realise he may have barked up the wrong tree all along…
This is a well-paced crime drama which further benefits from the impressively believable performances, in particular Suzy Delair (who at the time of filming was romantically involved with the director and who celebrated her 100th birthday last December!) and Louis Jouvet as the Inspector. Director Clouzot also touched on some rather daring themes (daring for 1947 that is) by making female photographer Dora a lesbian while Inspector Antoine raises his little mixed-race son as a single father. Towards the end of the film he poignantly addresses Dora: “You and I seem to have one thing in common after all. When it comes to women, neither of us will ever have a chance!”
QUAI DES ORFEVRES received a glorious 4K restoration and the disc offers the Bonus Feature ‘HG Clouzot’s Criminal Height’.