THE ASSASSIN LIVES AT 21
L’ASSASSIN HABITE A 21
1942, Janus Films, 84 min, France, Dir: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Inspector Wems is back in this claustrophobic murder mystery by first-time director Henri-Georges Clouzot. This time, it’s Clouzot’s show all the way, as the director finds his stride in giving his star Pierre Fresnay room to be completely exasperated by the chaos surrounding him. A superb and eccentric thriller from the famed director of DIABOLIQUE and THE WAGES OF FEAR.


THE LAST OF THE SIX
LE DERNIER DES SIX
1941, Gaumont, 90 min, France, Dir: Georges Lacombe

When a group of old friends prepares to share their fortunes with one another, their meeting is threatened by a series of mysterious murders. LE DERNIER DES SIX, though directed by Georges Lacombe, shows Henri-Georges Clouzot’s unmistakable hand in shaping the script, setting up the striking oppositions between grim, atmospheric crime scenes and the near-slapstick interactions of Inspector Wems (Pierre Fresnay) with his histrionic, high-maintenance girlfriend (played with flair by Clouzot’s then-girlfriend, Suzy Delair).


GRAND ILLUSION
LA GRANDE ILLUSION
1937, Rialto Pictures, 114 min, France, Dir: Jean Renoir

Along with Renoir's RULES OF THE GAME (1939), this has become a staple of all-time great film lists. With his usual deceptive simplicity, Renoir introduces us to a group of French officers who have been taken prisoner during World War I. They include an aristocratic career officer (the dashing Pierre Fresnay) and two lieutenants: Jean Gabin, the eternal Everyman of the French cinema, and Marcel Dalio, a witty Jew unashamed of his nouveau riche background. Like RULES OF THE GAME, GRAND ILLUSION is at once an elegant farewell to Europe’s ancient aristocracy and a profound warning against another world war that Renoir surely sensed was inevitable. Both films have a tremendous sensitivity to class, which in a lesser artist might have lapsed into mere elitism or, at the other extreme, sentimentality. At the core of the film is the friendship that the German commandant (Erich von Stroheim, the very definition of noblesse oblige) extends to Fresnay. In French with English subtitles.


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