Monday, May 6, 2013

DVD Review: THE MURDERER LIVES AT 21 (1943)

THE MURDERER LIVES AT 21 (1943)

[L'Assassin habite au 21]

Label: Eureka Entertainment

Region Code:
Duration: 84 Minutes
Video: 1.37:1
Audio: French LPCM 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Cast: Pierre Fresnay, Suzy Delair, Jean Tissier, Huguette Vivier, Jean Despeaux, Marc Natol, Odette Talazac, Noel Roquevert, Pierre Larquey, 

Every once in a while it's good to cleanse the cinema-palate by stepping outside the comfortable confines of horror films and take in a bonafide classic of the French cinema persuasion. Yesterday I threw on the debut feature film from Henri-George Clouzot, one of the most revered names in world cinema apparently. I know Mr. Clouzot for the diabolically fantastic DIABOLIQUE (1955), a real nice slice of a thriller. It may come to you as no surprise that I am not extremely well-versed in world cinema pre-1990, which is when I first took in Guiseppe Tornatore's gorgeous CINEMA PARADISO (1988) and was spurred to seriously consider foreign language films. Since then I do make it a point to take in a foreign language classic every now and again. So let's see how this 70 year-old French whodunit holds up...

The film starts off on a wonderful note as a local schlub having just one the lottery is making the rounds to the local pubs, sorta rubbing it in the faces of everyone. On his way out of a bar there's a fun encounter with a trollop whom asks if he would like to be accompanied home, while she seductively displays her breasts. He dismisses her with a great line akin something like "sorry honey, I've been weaned". Loved it! Already the film is pretty damn funny, something that sticks with the film through to the end, this is a wry and witty watch. Out the door the drunk saunters on down a darkened street where he is attacked, we view the murder from the killer's POV. This was a nice touch as it's pre-PEEPING TOM (1973) and pre-BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974), two films I associate with the pre-HALLOWEEN (1978) point-of-view cinematography . 

With the murder done the killer places a business card with the words "Monsieur Durand" on top of the corpse. We discover quickly that a serial killer is stalking the streets and placing his calling card at the scene of each murder. Leading the police pursuit of Monsieur Durand is the dapper Inspector Wenceslas Vorobechik (Pierre Fresnay). The police are at a loss a burglar is brought in for public drunkenness after wittily insulting a constable on the street. In exchange for leniency he divulges that he has discovered a cache of the Monsieur Durand's distinctive calling cards while ferreting through a boarding house attic located at the titular 21 Avenue Junot. The clever inspector goes undercover disguised as a pastor and takes up a room at the boarding house in a bid to solve the crime before, hopefully Monsieur Durand can strike again. 

There's a cast of oddball characters at the boarding house, this is where the film really comes to life. It's overflowing with dry wit and comic dialogue exchanges between the myriad of memorable characters. Among the ensemble are Mila (Suzy Delair) a struggling operatic singer and gal pal of the Inspector, Magician Lalah-Poor (Jean Tissier), artist Colin (Pierre Larquey), Dr. Linz (Noel Roquevert), Mlle. Cuq (Maximilienne), "Kid Robert" (Jean Despeaux) a blind boxer, his easy-to-get-with nurse Vania (Huguette Vivier) and the proprietor of the establishment Mme. Point (Odette Talazac) and her employee Armand (Marc Natol). No one character can be dismissed from being a probable suspect, in fact it seems like everyone could be the serial killer. In fact, every time the inspector nabs a could-be culprit another victim drops dead, and the final resolution is great stuff.

I must say for a film about the search for a dastardly serial killer this is a funny thriller, the tone goes from taught suspense to wry humor and quite successfully. In turns of tone it lies somewhere between Hitchcock's THE LODGER (1927) and THE LADYKILLERS (1955) quite comfortably, if it sounds like something you might enjoy I highly recommend a watch.  

DVD: Eureka Entertainment imprint Master of Cinema present Henri-Georges Clouzot's THE MURDERER LIVES AT 21 (1943) in a modestly attractive black and white presentation. The main negative is that the film looks as if has undergone a massive DNR scrubbing pretty much erasing any film grain. The print is quite nice with only minor damage but the image is plasticine and waxy, fine details have been wiped away and the over aggressive grain scrubbing is unfortunate. 

The French language LPCM audio comes with optional newly-translated English SDH subtitles and sounds pleasant enough, free of hiss, crackle or pops. It's never hard to decipher (unless you forget to snap on the subtitles and don't speak French), there's not a lot of depth but Maurice Yvain's score comes through nicely. 

DVD features are limited to a new video interview with Ginette Vincendeau, professor of French Cinema at King's College London. It's an informative listen as she talks about Clouzot's film, giving us a brief overview of his early career as a script writer/adapter and going into the film's place in French cinema, it having been filmed during the Nazi occupation and financed by a Nazi film company, interesting stuff 

 Special Features: 
- Gorgeous new Gaumont restoration of the film in its original aspect ratio, presented in 1080p HD on the Blu-ray
- New and improved English subtitles
- A fully-illustrated booklet, including the words of Henri-Georges Clouzot and rare imagery 
- New Video Interview with Ginette Vincendeau, professor of French Cinema at King's College London

Verdict: THE MURDERER LIVES AT 21 is quite an entertaining murder mystery peppered with some fantastic wry humor, it's a great set-up and the carry through is fantastic. Consider me suitably impressed, if you love classic whodunits and don't already own this film make it a point to add it to your collection. 3 Outta 5 


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