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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Quai des Orfèvres (Blu-ray)
Quai des Orfèvres (Blu-ray)
Kl Studio Classics // Unrated // February 25, 2020 // Region A
List Price: $19.89 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted March 4, 2020 | E-mail the Author
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Though a bit more conventional than French director Henri-Georges Clouzot's better-known Les Diaboliques (1955) and other, later films, Quai des Orfèvres (1947) is an immensely satisfying police procedural with noir elements, set in the world of what might be described as France's vaudeville. Loosely adapted from Stanislas-Andre Steeman's novel Légitime défense, it features strong characters and performances all around, an intriguing, adult story, while offering a fascinating inside-look at early postwar Paris.

Kino's Blu-ray utilizes a 4K restoration that really sparkles, with picture and sound that's at least as scintillating as when the film was brand-new.

Jenny Lamour (Suzy Delair) is a nakedly ambitious singer, ready to use her sex appeal to get ahead in the show business. Her bald, heavy-set piano accompanist husband, Maurice Martineau (Bernard Blier) is gentle and loving but also jealous of all the men who flirt with her, and her inattentiveness to his own personal needs. She scoffs at his childish attitudes, insisting that she's totally devoted to him, but his unhappiness reaches the breaking point when wealthy, sleazy businessman Brignon (Charles Dullin), a real Harvey Weinstein type (though he resembles Ernest Thesiger) who frequents the photo studio of their friend and neighbor, Dora (Simone Renant), to shoot nudes of his various prostitutes and girlfriends, promises Jenny a movie contract.

Maurice carefully establishes an alibi before driving to Brignon's home, where he plans to murder him with a pistol, only to find the old man already dead, a broken Champagne bottle lying near the corpse. Frightened, Maurice flees just as his car is stolen. Jenny, meanwhile, confesses to Dora that she must have murdered Brignon, and in the confusion forgot her fox stole. Dora, a lesbian in love with Jenny also, agrees to fetch it, carefully wiping any incriminating fingerprints.

Police Inspector Antoine (Louis Jouvet) of the Quai des Orfèvres (the division of the Police judiclaire, Paris's Scotland Yard) is assigned to investigate the murder, gradually closing in on Maurice, whose carefully worked out alibi slowly collapses.

The actors are marvelous. I've long been an admire of Bernard Blier, father of later director Bertrand Blier, but was familiar almost exclusively with his work from the mid-1950s forward, unaware he was giving fine performances much earlier. For classic movie fans in the U.S. and U.K., Suzy Delair is known mainly for what undoubtedly is the oddest film of her career, Atoll K (1951), the problem-plagued final film of Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy. She sang and was vivacious in that, too, qualities which come off much better here. Clouzot was romantically linked to her at the time, but by 1950 he married another actress, Véra, who'd likewise star in his films. Delair is still living as I write this; at 102 she's one of the oldest surviving film actors. Louis Jouvet was primarily a stage actor but headlined several important pre-war French films, including Marcel Carne's Hôtel du Nord (1938) but he died soon after making this. Inspector Antoine's quirky humanism is one of the film's many charms, like Bourvil's love of his cats in Le Cercle Rouge (1970). Here, Antoine tenderly looks after what apparently is an adopted son, clearly black or mixed-race though his precise relationship to the boy is never mentioned.

Audiences have so gotten used to depictions of backstage life in Hollywood movies, particularly musicals but mysteries as well, that it's almost startling to experience this same world from an entirely different perspective. Here, we see characters crammed into little rehearsal and audition rooms, far more adult-level flirting and fewer wisecracks, and Clouzot finds a wonderful balance casting what were undoubtedly real stage acts to mingle with the fake ones played by actors. There's much more subtlety in the way all these ambitious performers jockey for position on the bill, and less subtlety in the way backers and agents and manager try to get young hopefuls on the proverbial casting couch.

The clever story revolves around multiple deceptions: Jenny, Maurice, and Dora all hide things from one another, including Dora's love for Jenny, which she may or may not be aware of. Maurice, at least, seems convinced all the attention Dora pays him is evidence of unrequited love for him, though he never says this outright. It becomes so tangled the movie audience wonders how Inspector Antoine will ever unravel it, and who really killed Brignon.

Similar care is paid to the Quai des Orfèvres itself. Some police, interrogating minor criminals, threaten to beat suspects in the manner we're used to seeing in later French crime films, while Antoine is more measured, though not above putting pressure and using morally ambiguous methods.

Video & Audio

Licensed from Studio Canal, who provide a new 4K restoration, the 1.37:1 standard, black-and-white Quai des Orfèvres looks sensational on Blu-ray, as good as any monochrome title from the ‘40s. The English subtitles supporting the mono French dialogue are good and the disc is region "A" encoded.

Extra Features

A terrific supplement is a 1971 television interview with Clouzot, Blier, Delair, and Renant that's fascinating and insightful. Critic Nick Pinkerton's audio commentary also compliments the film with loads of information. A trailer is also included.

Parting Thoughts

A really terrific film, perfectly presented and with good extras, Quai des Orfèvres is a DVD Talk Collector's Series title.


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

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