Life and Death in L.A.: Murder, Suspense and Mystery Take Hold in Two Films by Master Storyteller Henri-Georges Clouzot

Friday, February 16, 2024

Murder, Suspense and Mystery Take Hold in Two Films by Master Storyteller Henri-Georges Clouzot

Simone Renant, "Quai des Orfèvres" A.K.A. "Jenny Lamour" (1947).

By Paul Parcellin

“Quai des Orfèvres” is a Gaulish police procedural that holds its own with any American made crime drama of that era. The title refers to the location of the central police headquarters in Paris, where some of the film's action takes place.

The story is uncomplicated enough to make it seem almost routine, but as the richly imagined characters waver between loyalty and betrayal of each other, dramatic tension rises to the breaking point. 

Jenny Lamour (Suzy Delair), a music hall performer, is determined to succeed in the theater. Her mild mannered husband, Maurice Martineau (Bernard Blier), who is also her accompanist, gets jealous when she flirts with Brignon (Charles Dullin), an old, lecherous businessman who claims he can help her get movie roles.

The normally staid Maurice blows his stack one night and threatens to kill Brignon as a number of witnesses observe his tirade. When Jenny secretly visits Brignon in his apartment one night, Maurice catches wind of the rendezvous and heads off to find them, planning to murder the old man, and perhaps Jenny, too.

But instead of busting in on an adulterous affair, Maurice comes upon a bloody murder scene. He flees, but things immediately go wrong. Enter veteran murder investigator Inspector Antoine (Louis Jouvet), and his world-weary eyes spy Maurice as the guilty man. 

Under the seasoned inspector’s scrutiny, Maurice’s alibi develops cracks. A handful of suspects are questioned and we get a taste of Antoine’s dark methods of squeezing out information and forcing witnesses to give false testimony.

Henri-Georges Clouzot, whose works include “The Wages of Fear” (1953) and “Les Diaboliques” (1955) (see below), co-wrote and directed “Quai des Orfevres,” and he peppers his scenes with background talent in handfuls of short comic vignettes, piling them into a music hall auditorium and the Paris police station. 

Like Hitchcock, Clouzot has a nice touch directing crowds as well as more intimate scenes. The cast is outstanding, and “Quai des Orfevres” marks the final screen performance  of Parisian stage legend Charles Dullin as Brignon.

Véra Clouzot, Simone Signoret, Paul Meurisse, Les Diabolique (1955).

Found on YouTube …

Speaking of Henri-Georges Clouzot, “Les Diaboliques,” which he directed and co-wrote, is available free on YouTube, both in dubbed English and in French with English subtitles

The mark of a great thriller can be measured by its capacity to hold our attention despite its implausibilities. “Les Diaboliques” is rich in improbable twists but it draws us in with an intoxicating tale of a love triangle among the staff of a French private boarding school for boys. 

The bullying Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) runs the school, which is owned by his frail wife, Christina (Véra Clouzot, the real-life wife of the director). Michel is having and affair with a teacher at the school, Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) and Christina is aware of the her husband’s extramarital shenanigans. 

But she and Nicole maintain a civil relationship and are united by their mutual hatred of Michel. The tyrannical Michel beats Nicole and taunts Christina about her heart condition. He’s also pretty awful to the pupils unfortunate enough to be stranded at this third-rate academy. 

Nicole devises a plan in which she and Christina will do away with Michel, and despite their jitters they do a remarkably efficient job of eliminating their tormentor. But then there’s a body to deal with, and the tension that goes with committing a crime in plain sight is nearly unbearable, particularly for Christina.

Worse still, Alfred Fichet (Charles Vanel), a retired senior policeman now working as a private detective, is gently insistent on joining the investigation into Michel’s disappearance. For Nicole and Christina, it’s a bit like trying to cover up a murder and then finding that Lt. Columbo has appeared on the scene. And if that’s not bad enough, events take a left turn at the end that upends everything we think we know.

Gene Tierney, Judith Anderson, "Laura" (1944).

The Otto Preminger directed “Laura” (1944), starring Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews is one of noir’s crown jewels. There are at least a couple more made for TV knockoffs of the original. One, made in 1968 stars Lee Radziwill, the younger sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She was roundly roasted for her weak performance in the title role. I made a brief YouTube search for the 1960s show but turned up nothing. It’s probably available somewhere and I’ll look a bit harder for it another time. 

An earlier television remake titled “A Portrait of Murder” (1955) is free on YouTube, and it isn’t half bad. The cast includes Dana Wynter as Laura Hunt, George Sanders as Waldo Lydecker, Robert Stack as Mark McPherson and Scott Forbes as Shelby Carpenter. 

Like the noirs turned into truncated radio plays in the 1940s and ’50s, this “Laura” is around an hour of highly watchable television, although it can’t hold a candle to the original. If you’re a “Laura” fan you might enjoy it. As I mentioned, I haven’t seen the 1968 production, and from all indications from those who have,  it’s just as well to keep it that way.



  1. Enjoyed this post, Paul -- I really want to see that first film. You've even made me (kinda) want to check out Les Diaboliques again, although it creeped me out so much when I saw it the first time, decades ago, that I haven't seen it since.

    -- Karen

  2. Thanks, Karen. This was a first-time viewing experience for me with Quai des Orfevres. Have you seen The Wages of Fear? It was my introduction to Henri-Georges Clouzot, and the tension in it is almost unbearable. As for Les Diabolique, I sympathise with your reaction. It's almost a horror film, albeit without supernatural content (although for a while it seems like supernatural stuff is going on). I must do a deeper dive into his catalog.