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Saturday, July 19, 2014

LES MAUDITS / THE DAMNED (1947)

René Clément’s tenuous hold on the list of major French helmers is largely supported by two titles, FORBIDDEN GAMES/’52 and PURPLE NOON/’60. And while neither quite lives up to its shining rep, Clément can usually be counted on to find some tight corners (narratively & literally) that at least let him show his impressive technical chops. Here he does it working inside the restrictive confines of a German U-Boat with much help from lenser Henri Alekan. It’s a near foolproof WWII endgame story as a small submarine crew leaves Oslo with a handful of Nazi officers, plus a few high-ranking officials, relatives & lovers, for a relocation trip to South America. Trouble calls when an injured passenger needs a doctor, leading to a quick stop to kidnap doctor Henri Vidal. There’s not a lot of surprises in this sort of thing, but Clément still manages to drop the ball on some promising set ups. The best one has the good doc raising the stakes on a crew member with a sore throat, claiming the guy’s contagious and hoping a growing quarantine might lead to a divide-and-conquer escape path. But nothing comes of this, or from four or five other plans. And they don’t so much fail as drift off. Frustrating. The story still largely comes off (foolproof, natch), with excellent atmosphere and a fine lead in the handsome M. Vidal who’d be better known had he not died young from a heart attack. And look for Michel Auclair as an amoral, bi-sexual opportunistic schemer. A decade later he’d play the Parisian Existentialist philosopher Audrey Hepburn goes to Paris to meet in FUNNY FACE/’57.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Is this the only WWII sub drama (ever) that doesn’t call on those distinctive sonar ‘Ping-Ping-Ping’ echos?

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