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The Criterion Collection presents
Quai des Orfèvres (1947)

"I'm a funny kind of girl."
- Dora (Simone Renant)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: May 12, 2004

Stars: Louis Jouvet, Simone Renant, Bernard Blier, Suzy Delair
Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:47m:07s
Release Date: May 27, 2003
UPC: 037429176924
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

It's probably too reductive and excessively Anglocentric to refer to Henri-Georges Clouzot simply as the French Hitchcock, but the comparisons for an English-speaking audience may be inevitable; however Clouzot gets down and dirty in a manner that Hitch never did, especially in this movie. It's a handsome film noir from the land that coined the term, and it's a completely entertaining and fascinating bit of filmmaking.

If you're fans of the genre (and if you're not, there's something wrong with you), you'll find many of the classic noir elements here—this time it's Suzy Delair as the tarty, sexually rapacious wife, a cabaret singer who has taken the stage name Jenny Lamour; Bernard Blier is a French Elisha Cook Jr. as Maurice, Jenny's apparently cuckolded husband, in the vaudeville business himself. Jenny has taken a particular shine to M. Brignon, who, if he weren't rich as Midas, would be referred to in proper circles as nothing more than a dirty old man. Stooped, nearly hunchbacked, Brignon's favorite pastime is taking sweet young things to a photographer's studio, where Dora (Simone Renant) takes nude photographs of the women in question, for Brignon's ample collection. Brignon has made vague promises to put Jenny in the movies; Maurice intends on breaking up the assignation between the old man and his wife, but when he busts in to Brignon's flat, he finds that the old boy has been brained with a champagne bottle, and lies slumped dead on the parlor room floor.

This isn't a whodunit, though it has a certain amount of suspense; it's an extraordinarily revealing character piece, which is where you'll find the strengths of the film. The photography studio and other elements give this story an affinity to The Big Sleep, particularly to Chandler's novel; explicit bits of business in the book had to be euphemized for the screen, courtesy of the Hays Code. And structurally, with the late introduction of the detective on the case, this seems like source material for the Coens and Fargo. Louis Jouvet plays Inspector Antoine, who seems almost like a Gallic study for Columbo; he's good at his job, and especially endearing is his affection for his son, whom he raises alone. It goes without comment that Antoine's son is part African, a consequence of his father having been stationed in Algeria; by Hollywood standards, certainly, this is bighearted and compassionate in a way that American movies always weren't, and still today not always are.

Even more problematic for the Hays office, I'd wager, would be Dora, who obviously carries a torch for Jenny; she's a lesbian who's not a prison warden, not a pervert, not punished for her sexual orientation. And Renant looks at Delair with all of the heartbreak and longing of unrequited lovers everywhere. The title of the film is roughly the Parisian equivalent of Scotland Yard; and as a cop movie, it translates just fine to our side of the pond. No doubt we miss out on some of the pleasures of the language, though, as the script seems to be loaded with the vernacular of at least two subcultures, backstage and in the precinct house, and the subtitles do pretty well with them, but there's nothing like the genuine article. Also deeply peculiar, ahistorical, and worth noting is the creepy physical similarity between Antoine's superior on the force and James Lipton, the absurdly sycophantic host of Inside the Actors Studio.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Armand Thirard's moody photography frequently looks beautiful, rich, and contrasty here, with great shadows and clean light, and magnificent depth of field. And though the print has been cleaned up some for DVD, it still sports a fair amount of bacterial decay, scratches and discolorations.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Some hiss and pop on the mono track, but it's certainly adequate, especially for those of us reading along with the subtitles.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 23 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01h:00m:17s

Extra Extras:
  1. poster gallery
  2. accompanying booklet with an essay on the film by Luc Sante
  3. color bars
Extras Review: The most notable extra is a piece (17m:01s) from a 1971 French television show, Au Cinéma ce soir, on the making of the film, featuring interviews with Clouzot, Blier, Renant, and Delair. The interviewer clearly thinks that Clouzot, both personally and professionally, is misanthropic, but he fails to get anyone to agree with him, though he must have been something of a tyrant—as Renant says of her director: "He's a wonderful man. Wonderful and frightening." The poster gallery features images from France, Italy, Belgium, and Argentina; and in his lovely accompanying essay, frequent tough guy Luc Sante admits that the film brings him to tears.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

A smart, taut, entertaining film noir from the City of Light. Allons-y!


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