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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Champagne Murders (Blu-ray)
The Champagne Murders (Blu-ray)
Kl Studio Classics // Unrated // July 9, 2019 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted August 27, 2019 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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The Champagne Murders (Le scandale, 1967), a psychological thriller starring Anthony Perkins, is a real curio. It was made in France by French director Claude Chabrol, but apparently entirely financed by a Hollywood company, Universal, under the banner Universal Productions France. Universal had produced François Truffaut's film of Fahrenheit 451 about a year earlier, possibly to burn off money earned by the company in France but which had to remain there, but these are the only two I'm aware of made that way.

In any case, it was Chabrol's only "Hollywood" film. The cast is mostly French, though the key players also made English-language films, and there are a few other Hollywood actors in the mix, notably character actor Henry Jones and Canadian beauty Suzanne Lloyd. Kino's Blu-ray is in English only, with no French-language version. According to the Internet Movie Database, two separate films were shot, one in English and one in French, but as the former appears to have been dubbed into English during postproduction, one suspects that's how the French edition was also made, using the same footage.

Chabrol was a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock, and here he uses Psycho's Anthony Perkins; and Henry Jones, who had a small but juicy role in Vertigo. But, stylistically, Charbrol doesn't imitate the Master of Suspense as Brian De Palma did for years, Chabrol's picture playing more like an antecedent of Italy's later giallo films. The movie is eccentric, to say the least, but there is a pretty incredible payoff at the end that makes it worthwhile.

A pre-titles prologue shows American Christopher Belling (Perkins) and Frenchman Paul Wagner (Maurice Ronet) carousing around Paris, drunkenly picking up a prostitute and driving to a remote park, where all three are assaulted by strangers. The girl is raped and strangled while Paul suffers a serious head injury necessitating a long recovering and electro-shock treatments.

Christopher, a former gigolo, is married to Paul's rich sister, Christine (Yvonne Furneaux), owner of the family business, a champagne company. Aided by an unattractive young personal secretary, Jacqueline (Stéphane Audran), Christine is taking advantage of Paul's infirmity and heavy drinking to negotiate a sale of the company to an American firm (hence Jones's presence), but Paul retains title to the company name, an asset as valuable as its factories. Christopher, pressuring Christine to buy him a yacht, tries to nudge things along.

He accompanies Paul on a business trip to Hamburg were they again drunkenly pick up women. Christopher leaves Paul and his date alone in a park, and the next morning he awakens hungover and bleary-eyed, wandering back to his hotel, unaware that she lies dead nearby, strangled. Sometime later, Paul attends a party hosted by British artist Evelyn (Suzanne Lloyd) where, again, Paul awakens the next morning only to find another woman dead, strangled mere feet away.

Gorgeously photographed in color and Techniscope by Jean Rabier (Purple Noon, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The 400 Blows), The Champagne Murders is a handsome production populated by beautiful women, especially Furneaux, whose eclectic career included everything from La dolce vita and Repulsion to Hammer's The Mummy, and to playing the title character in Frankenstein's Great Aunt Tillie (1984), her final film before retiring. In more ways than one, she was all over the map.

Virtually every character in The Champagne Murders behaves oddly and/or suspiciously. Perkins's kept man has stumbled onto a beautiful wife who's also filthy-rich, but he seems bored even as she indulges him. She's controlling to a point, and ruthless in her desire to circumvent Paul to sell off the family business, but more professional than the two men put together, who mostly behave like drunken fraternity pledges.

Clearly the story suggests that it's Paul who's murdering all those women, but that would be too obvious. Christopher, clearly, is a louse, a Tom Ripley-type (from Plein soleil and other novels and films), an opportunist though he genuinely enjoys Paul's company.

The performances are exceptional, one actor's work especially apparent at the end, which came as a startling surprise, at least to me.

The movie apparently had a spotty release when it was new, and hard to see in the decades that followed. Critics who remembered Chabrol's earlier New Wave success Les Cousins (1959), Les Bonnes Femmes (1960) and others generally liked it, but The Champagne Murders did not appeal to a wide, mainstream American audience.

Part of the problem is the poor English dubbing. The voices of Perkins and the other imported actors are heard on the soundtrack, but the audio sounds rather hollow and remote, more like a Spaghetti Western than the seamless looping exemplified by the ‘60s James Bond movies. Adding to the unreality is that while the story concerns French, American, German, and British characters, everyone's voice comes out as a flat American accent. Nearly everyone seems to be speaking English on-camera, so was it a case of Universal not wanting French-accented performers? Fahrenheit 451 avoided these problems by shooting everything in English, with live sound.

Though in the middle the movie seems to be flying off the rails, everything comes together for its unforgettable climax, which I won't spoil by revealing here. It's deserving of loads of praise, but to do so would give away too much.

Video & Audio

  As noted above, The Champagne Murders was shot in two-perf Techniscope, a process favored by Universal over Panavision from the late 1960s through early ‘70s. The video transfer looks great, almost like a brand-new movie, with a couple of blemishes here and there outweighed by the sharp image and gorgeous color. The DTS-HD 2.0 (mono) Master Audio is adequate for what it is, and English subtitles are offered on this region "A" encoded disc.

Extra Features

Supplements include an audio commentary track with historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson, a U.S. release trailer (with narration done in Britain), and an appreciative "Trailers from Hell" segment by Tim Hunter.

Parting Thoughts

Unusual and not entirely satisfying, but mostly fascinating and with a socko finish, The Champagne Murders is Highly Recommended.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian currently restoring a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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