Saturday, November 9, 2019

This Noirvember: DARKNESS IN THE SIXTIES!


Parlez vous French noir? 

Three years ago I discovered French film noir thanks to Don Malcolm and his annual "The French Had a Name for It" film festival in San Francisco. Don heads MidCentury Productions and since 2014 MCP has presented yearly - and, lately, more frequent - noir screenings at the city's Roxie Theater. This month brings "French 6," the last in MCP's series of French noir fests 'til further notice.

Le dernier tournant (1939), the postman always rings...
My introduction to French noir came with "The French Had a Name for It 3" in November 2016. It was there that I watched the rarely seen first film version of James M. Cain's scorching 1934 pulp sensation, The Postman Always Rings Twice. This was Pierre Chenal's 1939 adaptation, Le dernier tournant (The Last Turn), which, though lacking the glitter and gloss of MGM's 1946 version with Lana Turner and John Garfield, wanted for nothing in the way of style, a script faithful to Cain's book, and a superb cast, top to bottom. It was also at "French 3" that I saw the 1939 Marcel Carne/Jean Gabin masterpiece Le jour se leve (Daybreak) on the big screen for the first time and was introduced to the eccentric and edgy films of actor/director Robert Hossein. I was hooked.

Since then I've attended just about every film series Don and MCP have brought to the Roxie. There was the "Rare Noir 2" mini-series in May 2017 and "French 4" the following November (I know, I know...Noirvember). I was thrilled that my review of Tony Richardson's Mademoiselle (1964) was quoted in a French 4 press release.


In 2018, MidCentury staged two more French noir programs, a one day "Midsummer Nightmare" on Bastille Day and "French 5" in November with a program focused on films of the "frenetic '50s."

This year MCP presented "The French Had a Name for It 5-1/2" in May, an invigorating three day, mid-year shot of darkest Gallic noir...and now it's time for "The French Had a Name for It 6." 

Jane Fonda and Alain Delon in Les Felins (1964)
At the Roxie again, the program will run from the 14th - 18th of this month and it's all about the final decade of French noir, the 1960s. This five day series will feature the films of a broad array of directors, from Duvivier and Clement to Godard and Resnais.  Many icons of the French cinema will be on view. The likes of Charles Aznavour, Genevieve Bujold, Bruno Cremer, Alain Delon, Jean Gabin, Juliette Greco, Anna Karina, Yves Montand, Michele Morgan and Jean-Louis Trintignant will all be on the screen - and in some fascinating co-starring combinations. One of the most interesting of these is Rene Clement's relatively obscure Les Felins/Joy House/The Love Cage (1964), starring Alain Delon, Jane Fonda and Lola Albright of TV's Peter Gunn.  Delon portrays a type he was born to play, the amoral lady killer. And he is in his sulky prime here at age 29. Five years before she switched gears with her Oscar-nominated turn as a worn-out marathon dancer in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969), Fonda, at 27, was still in the sex kitten phase of her career. Les Felins is set on the glamorous Côte d'Azur and mostly takes place in an elegant but claustrophobic Belle Epoch mansion. What develops is a clever cat-and-mouse scenario. Delon is a professional "manipulator" (it's on his passport!), a low-end scammer who has found what seems a perfect way to elude the gang of thugs out to find and kill him for seducing their boss's wife. But the lavish maze-like estate where he serves as chauffeur (and more) for a wealthy widow (Albright) and her cousin (Fonda) may not quite be the safe haven it seemed at first. There are secrets and more than one plot afoot. Filmed at France's historic Villa Torre Clementina, this stylish very-'60s thriller boasts stunning production design, one of Lalo Schifrin's earlier film scores and costumes by Pierre Balmain, along with its two young and gorgeous, well-matched leads. Such was the pair's chemistry (was it only chemistry?) that Fonda would later say that the publicity she received for breaking up Delon's longtime romance with Romy Schneider was "exaggerated."

The Villa Torre Clementina on the French Riviera

Click here for the full 4-day, 15-film program for "The French Had a Name for It 6." If you're goin' to San Francisco between November 14 and 18, be sure to be check it out, there's not a day that should be missed.

Once "French 6" comes to a close, Don Malcolm and MidCentury Productions will have screened 101 French noirs at the Roxie in the past five years. According to the company website "The French Had a Name for It" will then go on hiatus "for a while." A very short while, I'm hoping...



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6 comments:

  1. I've never seen LES FELINS, but--based on Delon's early 1960s work--I'm pretty sure I'd enjoy it. The whole French noir program sounds like a blast, too! Someone recently mused on Twitter about whether BLADE RUNNER was the sci fi noir. My response was that it was preceded by the French--Jean-Luc's Godard's ALPHAVILLE was made in 1965! Will it be one of the movies shown?

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    1. I think you'd like Les Felins, Rick. If you've seen Purple Noon, that was also a Clement/Delon collaboration, the first and and an excellent adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley. Alphaville isn't on the schedule this year, but Godard's Le Petit Soldat is.

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  2. Any fest that shows Les felins is all right by me <3

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  3. I have been wanting to see Les Felins for ages. Purple Noon was excellent!

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    1. Les Felins is definitely worth seeking out, John. And Purple Noon, yes, great!

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