|Quai des Orfevres
the Inspector is on the case
As a film director Clouzot made a series of important contributions to the crime film genre, most famously Diabolique (Les diaboliques) (1955) and The Wages of Fear (Le salaire de la peur) (1957), but also, from earlier in his career, Quai des Orfevres (1947), The Raven (Le corbeau) (1943) and The Murderer Lives at Number 21 (L'assassin habite...au 21) (1942), and, from later in his career, Les epions (1957) and The Truth (La verite) (1960).
Additionally, as a screenwriter, Clouzot wrote the screenplays for The Last One of the Six (Le dernier des six) (1941), directed by Georges Lacombe, and Strangers in the House (Les inconnus dans la maison) (1942), directed by Henri Decoin. These latter two films were respectively based on novels by the French crime writers Stanislas- Andre Steeman and Georges Simenon.
Steeman's crime fiction been far overshadowed by the world famous Georges Simenon, which is a shame because it is worthy in its own right and often offers more intricately plotted puzzles, for the purist puzzle fan. (For more on Steeman's crime fiction, see this blog piece by Xavier Lechard.) The Last One of the Six was based on Steeman's 1931 crime novel Six hommes morts (Six Dead Men), one of his few titles that was contemporaneously published in English. The novel was filmed again in France in 1964 and 1975 and earlier in England in 1935, under the title The Riverside Murder.
|Jenny, Maurice and Dora: the three main suspects in Quai des Orfevres
Both Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Murderer Lives at Number 21 and Quai des Orfevres are based on Steeman novels. Of Quai des Orfevres the liner notes for the DVD by Luc Sante state that Clouzot when writing the screenplay could not find a copy of the Steeman novel on which the film was to be based (Legitime defense, 1942), so he just went by memory, "leaving only faint traces of the original story" in the script.
I can't address this point, having only ever been able to track down and read one translated Steeman novel (Six Dead Men, reviewed here), but I will say that I disagree with Sante when he declares that the crime plot is of little consequence in the film.
|checking out an alibi
To advance her career Jenny has been spending some time playing up to a wealthy "dirty old man," businessman Georges Brignon, much to the fury of her hot-headed husband and the concern of her savvy friend Dora, who knows just what Brignon is about: S-E-X.
Part of Dora's photography business is devoted to taking sexy "art" pictures of the pretty girls whom Brignon brings to her--legal, but rather on the order, I gather, of some of the 1990s Melania Trump pix publicized in the press this year: Brignon likes the girls to wear only pumps.
|checking out a suspect
Maurice, in fact, had brought a gun with him to Brignon's mansion, planning to shoot the creep, but he found him already dead.
Having plotted a murder, Maurice had taken time to construct an alibi. Will it hold up under the relentless scrutiny of Inspector Antoine?
|Just friends? Dora at work
Dora, for example, is a lesbian, passionately attracted, in her cool and reserved way--extreme discretion is necessitated by the era in which she lives--to Jenny. This attraction is hinted all the way through the film and finally made sufficiently explicit in a terrific line directed to her by Inspector Antoine.
|father and son
And, yes, on top of all this splendor, Quai des Orfevres manages to be a Christmas film!
The climax of the movie takes place on Christmas Eve, as snowflakes begins to fall over Paris, making suspects and sleuths alike shiver. Will this be a happy Christmas for our characters, or a tragic one? You will have to see for yourself.
Quai des Orfevres was released in a splendid set with English subtitles by Criterion, but the edition has since gone out of print. Look around though, it's worth taking some trouble to find a copy. This is a splendid film, easily as good as most contemporary Hitchcock I would say, if not better.