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The Twist

The Twist
Pathfinder Home Entertainment
1976 / Color / 1:66 flat letterboxed / 107 min. / Folies bourgeoises / Street Date March 22, 2011 / 24.98
Starring Stéphane Audran, Bruce Dern, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Ann-Margret, Sydne Rome, Maria Schell, Curd Jürgens, Tomas Milian, Francis Perrin, Sybil Danning, Charles Aznavour.
Jean Rabier
Original Music Manuel De Sica
Written by Claude Chabrol, Ennio De Concini, Norma Enfield from a novel by Lucie Faure
Produced by Alexander & Ilya Salkind, Pierre Spengler
Directed by Claude Chabrol

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Critical overviews of the great Claude Chabrol are easy to find, but seldom do we hear more than a mention of his 1976 film The Twist (Folies Bourgeoises). Kind words about it are even more rare. Pathfinder Home Entertainment's new DVD release will nevertheless be of keen interest to lovers of the prolific Chabrol, who passed away in September of 2010. Judging by the impressive cast list, the picture would appear to have distinct possibilities. It stars Chabrol's second wife Stéphane Audran, the beauty who caught our eye back in the director's 1961 Les bonnes femmes.

Adapted from a novel by Lucie Faure, the story cannot decide whether it is a romantic farce, a serious look at relationships, or a setup for a series of erotic daydreams experienced by a troubled married couple. American writer and poet William Brandels (Bruce Dern) lives in a state of 'frustrated success', as he can afford a lavish Paris apartment but is denied a much-coveted writer's award. William neglects his 40-ish but extremely attractive spouse Claire (Stéphane Audran). Needy for affection and further frustrated by the amorous dalliances of her live-in niece Nathalie (Sydney Rome), Claire has been carrying on an affair with William's editor, Jacques Lavolet (Jean-Pierre Cassel). But she becomes enraged when she sees William leaving the apartment of his research assistant, Charlie Minerva (Ann-Margret). Hiring an eccentric detective (Tomas Milian) to learn more about Charlie, Claire begins to fantasize William having sex with every woman he knows, including Nathalie. Her way of cutting off the affair is to forge William's signature on a bill of sale for his beloved apartment, forcing their move to the country. Becoming bored and resentful, William heads back to Paris, to ask Charlie to run away with him to New York.

The Twist is a confused and halfhearted comedy of manners that never decides on an approach to its subject. Natalie's lover sneaks in and out of William's apartment undetected, as in a bedroom farce. A totally superfluous Maria Schell plays an incompetent housemaid and cook for silly laughs: "This house doesn't need a maid, it needs an exorcist!" The serious domestic issues between Claire and William are undermined by uninteresting situations and unrewarding casting. Actors Dern and Audran don't convince us that they were once madly in love, and their attempts at comic touches consistently fall flat. Rather than a characterization, Bruce Dern's William given little visual distractions, such as his mechanical toy monkey that smokes cigarettes. The behavior of Stéphane Audran's Claire seems less conflicted than incoherent -- she's devoted to her husband yet her sexual activity is all over the map. As we don't invest in the characters, the irony of Claire's panic over her husband's infidelities never takes hold. Nor does the function of the attractive Charlie Minerva gain traction. As the feared and despised Other Woman, Charlie seems to be sleeping not only with Claire's husband, but her lover as well.

The film runs off the rails when its weak narrative becomes a springboard for erotic fantasies. Claire imagines her husband seducing other women, and fantasizes murdering him and his red-haired lover in the street. Attending a play, she hallucinates William undressing in the middle of the audience, to make love to the actress on stage. Some of Claire's fantasies are printed over-exposed, making them easy to pick out but defeating any attempt at a surreal effect. Chabrol seems totally uninvolved in these farcical events, and films them with the sober objectivity that serves him so well in his mystery thrillers.

We are also treated to some of William's fantasies. Attending the erotic cabaret Le Crazy Horse de Paris, he imagines a simultaneous sexual assault by Nathalie, Charlie and his editor's secretary (Sybil Danning). That spectacle is cut short when a fantasy Claire arrives with a pair of castrating shears. Neither clever nor sexy, these daydreams discourage our involvement.

Although the film has have a few interesting moments, it is cluttered with pointless digressions and unfunny comedy. Tomas Milian's cartoonish detective and Curd Jü'rgens' jewelry salesman are apparently present to stack the credits with big names. Maria Schell gets the worst of this treatment as the brainless maid Greta, who hurts her hand and throws herself out a window to facilitate a romantic meeting with the local doctor (Charles Aznavour). Aznavour's prominently billed role is little more than a walk-on. The higher-billed Ann-Margret comes off the best of the supporting players, yet her Charlie Minerva is given only one real dramatic scene.

Not surprisingly, director Chabrol all but disowned The Twist. It's tempting to suggest that the film's many ill-used stars were shoehorned into the movie by the producing triumvirate of Alexander & Illya Salkind and Pierre Spengler, who made the Chabrol film between their smash international hits The Three Musketeers and Superman: The Movie. Claude Chabrol has a brief cameo in The Twist, as "another person in the room" at the office of William's publisher. The director averaged a film a year for 56 years. His fans will want to see this show despite the fact that it is rated dead last among his works.

Pathfinder Home Entertainment's The Twist is a pitiful presentation on DVD. The flat-letterboxed image appears to be sourced from a pre-digital video transfer designed for use for VHS. Color values are unhealthy and the general image so inconsistent that we aren't always certain when we are looking at a 'normal' scene or one bleached brighter to represent one of Claire Brandels' erotic fantasies. A scene with the detective is interrupted by videotape hits -- several rolling lines. The final shot fades not to black but to a digital soup. The audio track cuts out before the finish of Manuel De Sica's final music cue.

The transfer has a fairly clear French language track but no English subtitles. The English language track is indistinct, muffling more than a few dialogue lines. At several junctures, the audio has distracting phasing problems. Should you be aching to relive the tatty VHS video experience of the 1980s, this disc is for you.

Pathfinder makes a decent attempt at a positive plot synopsis on the back of the box, but their cover blurb is a bald misquote from The Internet Movie Database ... actually, from a reader of the IMDB named Mario Gauci, uncredited. The re-edited quote converts Gauci's fairly negative assessment of The Twist into praise, inventing a positive comparison to Luis Buñuel. Gauci's statement that the film's music is "alternately emphatic and wistful" is attributed to the movie as a whole. The dishonesty exhibited here is startling.

The irony is that staunch Chabrol lovers that eagerly await any video offering of the directors' work may want to pick up The Twist, if only for curiosity's sake. It's a shame that so many of Chabrol's films, even classics like Violette Nozière are only available in the United States in sub-par DVD editions.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Twist rates:
Movie: Fair ++
Video: Poor
Sound: Poor +
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 18, 2011

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2011 Glenn Erickson

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