Quai Des Orfèvres (DVD)

Quai Des Orfèvres (DVD)

After sifting through the clutter of suspects, alibis, witnesses, and leads that form a wayward path to the truth, detective Louis Jouvet–the jaded conscience of H.G. Clouzot's unearthed 1947 masterpiece Quai Des Orfèvres–wryly admits that his case "boils down to the usual: diddly squat." In a 1971 TV interview included on the luminous new DVD, Clouzot says roughly the same thing about his source material, a whodunit that went out of print long before he bought the rights. Even without a copy of the book handy, Clouzot wrote the script from memory, and, in the interview, he proudly recalls the author's fury at all the interesting characters Clouzot made up himself. The "diddly squat" mystery gives Quai Des Orfèvres a special significance, because it plays against Clouzot's supposed strengths as "the French Hitchcock," a reputation stemming from the airtight plotting of classics such as Le Corbeau, The Wages Of Fear, and Diabolique. Though superficially satisfying in its elegant turns and convolutions (at one point or another, all three principal suspects confess to a single crime), the plot doesn't hold up under the slightest scrutiny: It relies on a series of perfectly timed coincidences that, together, have longer odds than a lottery jackpot. But for Clouzot, suspense is merely an entrée into the vibrant, seductive world of postwar Paris, which he populates with richly imagined characters whose passions reveal depths that murder can only begin to express. Finally resurfacing after going virtually unseen in the U.S. for 50 years, the film follows an investigation through the backrooms of police stations and entertainment halls, as well as the sexually charged arenas of boudoir photography, va-va-voom song-and-dance routines, and coy lesbianism. With his slackened, pasty features and perpetually sour temperament, Bernard Blier appears at first to be a loser and a cuckold, having long since abandoned his post at the Paris Conservatory to accompany sexpot wife Suzy Delair (stage name: Jenny Lamour) as she belts out show tunes in slinky lingerie. Blier's insane jealousy makes him the lead suspect when a lecherous producer (Charles Dullin) is found dead in his estate, flattened by a champagne bottle after meeting Delair for a possible movie deal. But Jouvet's investigation takes another turn when he discovers that Simone Renant, the blonde photographer who lives downstairs from the suspects, worked to cover up the crime as a show of hidden (and forbidden) love for Delair. At once a murder mystery, a comedy of manners, and an unforgettable character piece, Quai Des Orfèvres is the rare genre film that shrugs off the plot as a driving force and instead examines the latter part of "crimes of passion." In spite of Clouzot's reputation as a bully and a cynic, the film evolves into a surprisingly humane and moving portrait of friendship and marriage, bursting with revelations about loyalty, trust, fidelity, and the things people do for love. All of which amounts to considerably more than "diddly squat."

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