And Hope to Die
Kl Studio Classics // Unrated // $19.95 // February 25, 2020
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted February 17, 2020
Highly Recommended
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An eccentric but rewarding crime thriller from René Clément, And Hope to Die (La course du lièvre à travers les champs, "The Hare Races Across the Fields," 1972) both recalls earlier films and, significantly if awkwardly, Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but its character-driven screenplay by Sébastien Japrisot and Clément's direction keep it interesting. Best of all is the cast, an excellent mix of American and French talent, most notably Jean-Louis Trintignant and the irreplaceable Robert Ryan.

Although Kino's Blu-ray, licensed from Studio Canal, includes only the French-language track, it's also the complete 140-minute cut. When first released in the U.S. by 20th Century-Fox, they savaged the narrative down to just 99 minutes. The complete version is leisurely paced, to be sure, but ultimately much more satisfying.

A French-Italian-Canadian co-production, And Hope to Die takes places almost entirely in rural Ontario and in and around Montreal, Quebec. Except for the climatic heist and a couple of studio interiors filmed in France, it was predominantly shot in Canada.

In an incongruous homage to Sergio Leone (specifically Once Upon a Time in the West), a trio of stiletto-brandishing gypsies await a train at a lonely stop in Canada. Frenchmen Antoine "Tony" Cardot (Trintignant) steps off the arriving train and the gypsies, blaming him for the death of gypsy children killed on the ground when Cardot's private plane crashed, grab him though he manages to escape on foot.

He makes it to Montreal, the gypsies in hot pursuit, with Cardot escaping onto the shuttered grounds of Expo '67. Hearing gunshots he thinks are intended for him, he's surprised to instead find a dying stranger, the victim of an unrelated crime. He gives Cardot $15,000 in cash and cryptically tells him, "Toboggan committed suicide" before expiring. Two plainclothes policemen handcuff Cardot, but they turn out to be gangsters Rizzio (Jean Gaven) and Renner (Louis Aubert), who shot their compatriot, looking for answers. Cardot hides the cash in his pants.

En route back to the hideout, where leader Charley will ultimately decide what to do with Cardot, in an effective sequence the Frenchman tosses Renner from the speeding convertible onto the freeway, and tries choking Rizzio, the driver, with his handcuffs, though after nearly crashing the vehicle Rizzio regains control, pulling a gun on Cardot.

At the hideout, Charley (Robert Ryan) becomes fascinated by the mysteriously cool and collected Cardot, who claims to be on the lam himself following a holdup. As proof he points to recent gunshot wounds, actually a bandaged stab wound courtesy the gypsies. But the wild bluff works, and after Renner dies of his injuries and the other gangster dead on Charley's orders, Charley is inclined to accept Cardot into their scheme.

Probably three-fourths of And Hope to Die takes place at the hideout, a remote, long-closed inn owned by Charley's girlfriend, Sugar (Lea Massari). Also present is Renner's free-spirited sister, Pepper (Tisa Farrow), and Charley's dim-witted muscle, ex-boxer Mattone (Aldo Ray), who takes an instant dislike to Cardot, whom everyone contemptuously calls "Froggy."

The movie draws innumerable parallels to other films. The basic set-up is quite similar to Samuel Fuller's House of Bamboo, with Robert Stack infiltrating and earning (with homoerotic overtones) the trust of intellectual gangster Robert Ryan. In other ways the picture resembles the American-influenced crime films of Jean-Pierre Melville, especially Un flic, released within a month of And Hope to Die's opening in France, with its similarly international cast make-up and equally elaborate climatic heist, in this case actually a staged kidnapping.

Less successful are the picture's allusions to Lewis Carroll, the movie even opening with a quote: "We are all but older children, dear, who fret to find our bedtime near." All this is somehow connected to Cardot's fascination with Charley and vice versa, the former attracted to the glamour (or something) of Charley's criminal aspirations and Charley in finding an unfazable younger version of himself in Cardot. The motive behind Cardot's manipulation of and deception toward Charley, later taking the form of genuine loyalty and affection, is never entirely clear but it's always fascinating. Worse are bookending scenes involving several of the film's characters as children (?), apparently intended as a flashback though featuring kids in modern dress with contemporary automobiles in the background. Fortunately, these cryptic flourishes damage the overall impact only slightly.

Robert Ryan was one of the four or five greatest actors in all of cinema (a declaration few cineastes would argue against) and he's a magnificent here as he almost always was. He's obviously dubbed by a French actor that can't capture Ryan's essence, with Ryan clearly acting in English some of the time, phonetically speaking French (or, reportedly, gibberish, to match the lip movements) in some scenes, yet the subtleties of his performance always shine through, especially since so much of Charley's character involves him sizing up Cardot. Ironically, Aldo Ray seems to be speaking French throughout; at least it sounds like his voice on the soundtrack.

One of the major stars of French cinema since the mid-1950s, Trintignant is best remembered for roles in such films as And God Created Woman (1955), A Man and a Woman (1966), The Great Silence (1968), My Night at Maud's (1969), The Conformist (1970), Confidentially Yours and Under Fire (1983), Three Colors: Red (1994) and many others. He's marvelous here, a perfect counterpoint to Ryan.

The two gorgeous women in the film, Lea Massari (L'Avventura, Murmur of the Heart, The Colossus of Rhodes) and Tisa Farrow, she in only her second film, are as strong and interesting characters as the men. Nine-year-old Emmanuelle Béart (Mission: Impossible, La Belle Noiseuse) made her debut in And Hope to Die, in a tiny role at the beginning.

Video & Audio

Remastered by Studio Canal, the complete, 1.66:1 widescreen Blu-ray of And Hope to Die is much superior to Clément's simultaneously released The Deadly Trap, with better clarity, truer color, and unlike that release virtually no signs of age-related wear. The audio, DTS-HD Master Audio mono, is also superior. Region "A" encoded.

Extra Features

Supplements include an audio commentary track by Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson that meanders somewhat but is reasonably good. A trailer is also included.

Parting Thoughts

A great cast delivering terrific performances in a way-above-average caper-thriller, And Hope to Die, now available in its complete form, is Highly Recommended.

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

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