Clouzot: The Early Works (I'll Be Alone After Midnight) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (18th December 2018).
The Film

"Before directing his first feature, Henri-Georges Clouzot spent ten years learning the ropes. During this prolific period as a screenwriter, he learned cinematic grammar and began to forge his style. To better know and understand Henri-Georges Clouzot, you have to discover these rare films, of which he was one of the principal architects. Kino Classics and Lobster Films are proud to present CLOUZOT: THE EARLY YEARS, which collects six varied features he worked on from 1931-1933: frothy comedies, boxing dramas, musicals and melodramas. The set also includes his directorial debut - the short film The Terror of Batignolles (1931), which anticipates his canonical thrillers to come."

Dragnet Night: Cheery sailor Georget (Street Without Joy's Albert Préjean) is looking forward to seeing the bright lights of Paris during the ship's furlough. He arrives in Pigalle just in time for a police raid and poses as the husband of nightclub singer Mariette (13 Rue Madeleine's Annabella) to prevent her from being hassled. She rewards his kindness with a date to the carnival where Georget gets badgered into taking on strongman Charly Stick (The Mysteries of Paris's Constant Rémy) in the boxing ring. Georget refuses to take a dive for the money offered him backstage and soundly thrashes Stick. Later that night, Georget and Mariette run into Stick in a bar and Georget sings to cheer him up. Stick tells them that his best days are behind him but that he recognizes talent in Georget and offers to train him. Stick finds a benefactor in the pompous Baron Stanislas (Pleasures of Paris' Lucien Baroux) who he has been training. When Georget beats Stanislas' own fighter in the ring, he becomes the contender for the title in the upcoming big match and the toast of high society. Having experience with such people, Mariette feels right away that Georget is slipping away from him and abruptly announces her intention to go on tour. Meanwhile, Georget becomes the object of infatuation for the Baron's mistress Yvonne (Edith Méra) and his training takes a back seat to leisure; and he is about to learn a hard lesson about just who will still be there for him if he cannot deliver.

I'll Be Alone At Midnight is dedicated to those perpetrators of "crimes of passion." When her philandering husband (Roger Blum) walks out in the middle of an argument, Monique Argilliers (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg's Mireille Perrey) decides to get even by having an affair of her own. She turns down pining longtime friend Michel (Les Bonnes Femmes' Pierre Bertin) and instead buys a bunch of balloons and lets them lose over Paris with the note "I'll be alone after midnight." Michel desperately tries to capture one and gets himself arrested for firing his gun in public to shoot one of the balloons down. As midnight nears, he is still stuck at booking while the other balloon recipients – a sailor, a workaholic who hopes to make his train after an assignation, a military guard abandoning his post for a date, an angler, a nurseryman, a jazz musician who uses his instrument to speak, and a clerk. Monique meets them all at once, and then takes them all along when Michel calls her to vouch for him. She decides to leave her choice of lover to chance, but fate keeps steering her towards one man.

The Unknown Singer: Traveling salesman Ernest (Bulldog Drummond at Bay's Jim Gérald) takes shelter at an inn in snowy Russia and hopes to charm the customers and staff with his wares in exchange for accommodations. When he plays a phonograph record to entertain them, a man named Boris (Manon Lescaut's Lucien Muratore) starts to sing along and Ernest immediately sees a money-making opportunity in his golden voice. He learns from the other customers that the Boris was found by whalers and dropped off at the inn by them. He has no memory of who he was, although he speaks French, so Ernest puts all of his goods on the line to arrange for fake papers to get Boris back to Paris. He soon makes a splash as "The Unknown Singer," heard performing on the radio and giving his few public performances in a mask. When her editor gives her the chance to run with the pros by interviewing and getting a photograph of "The Unknown Singer," spunky reporter Pierette (Cat People's Simone Simon) is barred from seeing him by Ernest but gets sight of him without his mask. Doing some digging, she discovers that he is Claude Ferval, a famous tenor who vanished ten years ago after falling overboard on a cruise ship. She takes this to Ernest, and he promises her a scoop and announces that "The Unknown Singer" will unmask himself on stage at his next public performance. While Pierette recognized his face, his voice on the radio is recognized by his widow Hélène (Beauty Spot's Simone Cerdan) as well as her pathologically jealous second husband Jacques (Crimson Brigade's Jean-Max). When Ernest helps jog Claude's memory, he remembers the incident and that his fall was not an accident. When he learns that his wife and Jacques will be in the audience, he plans to use his performance to expose a crime. The film would be remade in 1947 by André Cayatte (Before the Deluge).

Based on the play by Louis Verneuil (Deception) – simultaneously adapted in Germany and helmed by Carl Boese (The Cheeky Devil) – My Cousin from Warsaw opens as an exasperated physician ('s ) cannot find anything wrong with hypochondriac banker Archibald Burel ('s ) but must pad his bill, and earn himself some peace and quiet, by suggesting he reduce his stress by taking a five month vacation in the countryside and indulge in a relaxing hobby. Burel resolves to spend his time at his estate composing an opera, which he reveals to the horror of his wife Lucienne (Dangerous Liaisons 1960's Madeleine Lambert) who looks forward to him being away to spend time with his friend and her lover Hubert (Diary of a Lost Girl's André Roanne), a playboy and painter who also lives in the countryside for most of the year. Hubert also takes inspiration from music, but being a sounding board for Burel's Chinese opera proves intolerable to wife and lover. Another unexpected guest is Lucienne's vivacious cousin Sonia (Purple Noon's Elvire Popesco), passing through on her way to Spain to convince the king to release her fiancé the marquis from prison, her retinue including her dogs and English beau Toby (). Lucienne begs her to stay and to provide a distraction for Burel. What she does not know is that Burel, not believing that he is being cuckolded despite the intimations of servant Joseph (Carlos Avril) but suspecting it may happen, has implored Sonia to seduce Hubert. Amused at the triangle, Sonia decides to toss a coin daily and focus on both missions. Unfortunately for Lucienne, Hubert starts to fall for Sonia, and Burel makes the subject of his opera a "blonde princess." Will jealousy expose the truth or will true love win out in the end?

Tell Me Tonight: Opera singer Enrico Ferrero (Polish tenor Jan Kiepura) is being run ragged by his demanding agent ('s ) who has booked a tour of twenty-four cities in twenty-nine days. On the train to Budapest, he hops another train to Monéve where he meets Koretzsky ('s ) who is also on the run for very different reasons. Arriving in the little town, Ferrero has his trusted valet Balthazar ('s ) bring his car. Unfortunately, Balthazar proudly brags about his boss and the town is soon planning a big welcome to its honored guest. When a photograph in the local paper causes Mayor Pategg (Dragnet Night's Baroux) to mistake Koretzsky for Ferrero, Ferrero lets Koretzsky play his part while he takes the road. Traveling in the mountains, he assists spunky motorist Mathilde ('s ) who has made herself up to look more vulnerable when she runs her car off the road. Cutting lose the tow line once she nears her home, Mathilde next comes across Ferrero unawares when he is entertaining a small village with song. While the mayor is buttering up Koretzsky, he spots the woman he has recently fleeced and imposes on the mayor's hospitality to be a guest at his home where the Madame Pategg ('s ) is only too happy to seek his opinion on her singing and beg a duet. When Ferrero learns of Koretzky's new accommodations, he joins him there as his secretary. Mathilde has guessed the game but the case of mistaken identity proves more problematic when the police get involved after Koretzsky is made at a party in Ferrero's honor. Co-director Anatole Litvak (The Snake Pit) helmed simultaneous English-language and German-language co-production versions with Kiepura and Schneider reprising their roles with other actors in the supporting roles.

In Dream Castle, a film production shooting on the water asks for twelve sailors from a nearby military ship as extras, and home movie buff captain Mirano (Elena and Her Men's Jaque Catelain) and his lieutenant Déri (It Happened in Paris's Pierre Sergeol) go along to observe. When the actor in the bit-part of the handsome prince who rescues the spy played lead actress Maria (Three Musketeers' Edith Méra) loses his balance and falls overboard, cameraman Ottoni (Dragnet Night's Baroux) picks Mirano as the best-looking of the extras and asks him to play the role of the prince, not realizing that Mirano actually is a member of royalty. His performance satisfies and the director (Beauty and the Beast's Marcel André) asks him to join the production on land. Traveling to the location, Ottoni, Mirano, Maria, Déri, and Mirano's sailors – who are in on the deception of the production crew – get separated from the director and the rest of the crew and wind up miles from their destination in a small village. Ottoni scoffs at the local inn's specialty of corn gratin and tells the locals that they are the retinue of Prince Morano for better treatment; whereupon, young soldier Tonio Billichini (I Confess's Roger Dann) delivers an invitation on behalf of his father the Baron (Adrien Le Gallo) to stay at their castle. To get back at Ottoni for the deception, Mirano casts the cameraman as his valet, and he is consigned to the garret while the others live it up. Mirano discovers that he has already met the baron's daughter Beatrix (8 Women's Danielle Darrieux) while haggling over the purchase of a cow at the village market, but his interest arouses the jealousy of Maria who likes to be the leading lady to all of her leading men, leaving Beatrix wondering who to trust about the nature of the relationship between Mirano and Maria; however, it is Ottoni becoming inspired by the local scenery – including the chambermaid – that may blow their cover. Director Géza von Bolváry (The Secret Countess) – billed here as the ambiguously French "G. de Bolvary" – simultaneously helmed a German-language version with a different cast.

Before director Henri-Georges Clouzot became known for his brand of thrillers like The Murderer Lives at Number 21, Le Corbeau, and The Wages of Fear or fortuitously swooping Alfred Hitchcock by adapting Boilieu-Narcejac's "Celle Qui N'Était Plus" into Les Diaboliques and his famous unfinished post-Vertigo study of obsession and jealousy with Inferno, he had apprenticed as a screenwriter for productions of Adolphe Osso, the president of Paramount's French subsidiary who began producing his own film in 1930 under the company name Les Films Osso, for of which are included in Kino Lorber's Clouzot: The Early Works along with his short film debut La terreur des Batignolles, as well two films produced in more than one language with the same directors and different cast members for which Clouzot did the French-language script adaptations.

The first four films represent a pair of musical melodramas and a pair of French farces; with the first two a little uncertain and the latter two improving in just about every respect. The protagonists of Dragnet Night are considerably less interesting than the supporting characters, the baron who is more aware than Georget that he has fair-weather friends and mistresses, Charly who from his very introduction is aware that his best days are behind him, and even the fighter that baron sponsors before Georget beats him who experiences ahead of Georget how it is to be dropped by high society; the reason not so much lesser performances as how quickly their relationship is supposed to have evolved, and less that Georget could so easily get caught up in special treatment but that Mariette should so quickly mourn the loss of a man she has known for a couple days. Beginning with a cheeky montage of various sometimes literally vitriolic crimes of passion, I'll Be Alone After Midnight has a rather shrill wronged wife and a sour romantic interest who are really no more compelling than any of the suitors in a setup ripe for better exploitation by a snazzier comic writer. The Unknown Singer's plot is the hoariest of melodrama clichés: an amnesiac victim of attempted murder, and we do not doubt for a moment that his accident was foul play before we meet his wife's new husband; however, what the film has in spades is suspense. The scene of Ernest attempting to job Claude's memory through telling the events in the form of a "once upon a time" story in sustained two-shot is one of three major sequences that anticipate the film noir genre; the other two being Claude's stage performance with its pointed lyrics, and Jacques' attempt to literally run from his own guilty conscience. My Cousin from Warsaw is a more tightly-constructed farce with better characterizations of stock roles and better performances. It is also genuinely funny, dealing with extramarital sex and double standards in a manner even more mature than the works of the pre-Code Hollywood era. If it has a fault, it is that the film does not know when to fade out, squandering at least four good spots where it could conclude with other plot threads open-ended but not unresolved – the best spot would have been the penultimate scene of the love triangle returned to its previous state of quiet discord – insisting on ending on the parting wise words of Sonia whose flight from an earlier scene would have worked just as well for her character and her outlook on love.

The scenarios and original scripts for the other two films in the set, Tell Me Tonight and Dream Castle, did not originate with Clouzot, who wrote the French-language adaptations, but their use of mistaken and assumed identities seemed to have resonated with him as far as his own short film directorial debute The Terror of Batignolles in which the titular thief (Boucot Fils) breaks into an apartment just before its owners come home. Sensing that they are not alone, the pair (The Pearls of the Crown's Germaine Aussey and Elevator to the Gallows's Jean Wall) melodramatically consider various murder-suicide scenarios in order to frighten him out of hiding and fleece him not only of what he has taken but souvenirs from his previous thefts. Satisfied that the couple are not going to take their lives, he takes his leave only for Clouzot to pull a reversal. Just as with the other two pairings, Tell Me Tonight feels like the inferior effort, with Dream Castle not burdened by musical numbers and dependent upon dialogue and exchanges to convey the charisma of its young leads as well as indulging in more sustained comedy. Clouzot would follow his short with two features that are unavailable here – although the casting of Kiepura in Tout pour l'amour (also a Gaumont co-production with a British English-language version simultaneously produced and attempting to make Kiepura an international star along with the other simultaneous productions J'aime toutes les femmes/Ich liebe alle Frauen and My Heart is Calling/Mon coeur t'appelle before his single American outing for Paramount: Give Us This Night) suggests it may be another musical comedy – but he would continue to hone his writing throughout the thirties before his more characteristic and well-received third feature The Murderer Lives at Number 21.

Video

None of the films in this set have been released on home video in the United States; and, although they were licensed from French restoration company Lobster Films – founded in 1985 by Cinémathèque française Serge Bromberg who hosted a number of restorations of French shorts and features from the earlier half of the twentieth century on television – one should not expect here restorations of the quality of Gaumont's Kino Lorber-licensed releases or even Lobster's award-winning documentary/reconstruction of Clouzot's Inferno. All six of the films are in less-than-optimal shape, and neither Lobster nor Kino Lorber specify whether the sources of the films are prints or composites of multiple prints. The resolution is certainly 1080p and detail can reach the level of some of the better silent film restorations, but all six of the films are faded, scratches of various depth are evident, and the sprockets are sometimes visible along the right side of the image while the rounded corners in others suggest that the entire frame of those have also been exposed.

Audio

Hiss is most apparent throughout The Unknown Singer, especially during the musical numbers, while the clarity of the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono tracks also reveals the roughness of the era's sound recording with some offscreen voices sounding like they are coming from a telephone receiver and some distortion in the high ends (including some shrill female voices). The optional English subtitles are free of errors, and they reveal that Tell Me Tonight's utterance of the titular song is translated under its actual title.

Extras

There are no extras on the discs – Clouzot's The Terror of Batignolles is listed in the main menu of the first disc with the other three films – but a booklet by film critic Peter Tonguette is housed in the case.

Overall

Although it features only one directorial effort - a short amidst six feature films - Clouzot: The Early Works allows the viewer to see how the director of Les Diaboliques and The Wages of Fear paid his dues.

 


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