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Clouzot: Early Works
Henri-Georges Clouzot (The Wages of Fear, Diabolique) is considered one of the masters of French cinema. The filmmaker has a master's eye for visual storytelling. His most cherished works clearly demonstrate Clouzot's artistic brushstrokes as a director are uniquely his own. With several classic films made during his legacy as a director he is an artist who has undeniably made a mark in the pantheon of filmmaking history.
Clouzot: The Early Works is an interesting compilation of some of the filmmaker's earliest forays into filmmaking. This set showcases his beginnings as a filmmaker when he worked as a screenwriter for dialogue adaptations and as an assistant director. It also includes his directorial debut, The Terror of Batignolles (1931), a short film that only hints at what was to come from Clouzot.
As with other master filmmakers who started their prolific careers during the early era of studio filmmaking (such as the brilliant Alfred Hitchcock), Clouzot's earliest filmmaking demonstrate his finesse for the art and craft while only giving a glimpse of his later brilliance. Before making classics like The Wages of Fear he had to learn the ropes of filmmaking. This set showcases his growth from a novice to a skilled filmmaking who would one day become an auteur.
There's a certain sense that the features included in this set demonstrate the studio's workmanlike production flow with several of the films featuring similar recurring themes (storylines focusing on singers and taking place around the ocean). Indeed, most of the films in the set were produced in one year (1931) and share a resemblance to the assembly-line feeling of early Hollywood-era productions: utilizing some of the production-team, cast, and similar story-lines/locations to churn out one film after another for theaters.
Despite the feeling that these films are primarily studio efforts more-so than the efforts of a singular artistic voice, the films in the set are interesting (sometimes baffling) and are worth watching as an early look into the developing style of Clouzot. None are brilliant but a few of the films are quite enjoyable nonetheless. These early French films offer an interesting glimpse at Clouzot's early associated works.
Dragnet Night (1931) was directed by Carmine Gallone (The Life of Giuseppe Verdi). It is the first film in the set. The storyline focuses on a singer, Georget (Albert Prejean) and his romantically blossoming relationship with a beautiful singer named Mariette (Annabella). The pair are on a date together when Georget accidentally stumbles into a boxing career. Their date-night boxing event turns into the singer switching careers. As the romantic-comedy continues the film has beautifully framed cinematography from Leonce-Henri Burel (Diary of a Country Priest).
In fact, it's the stunning cinematography that is most impressive: the film has many fascinating shots which look far more modern and experimental than one would expect in an early 1930's feature. The story and some of the dialogue was written by Clouzot. The story-line is charming and sweet. In my opinion, Dragnet Night is the best picture in the entire set: a moving and surprisingly vital drama which takes center stage around the boxing ring.
The second film in the collection, I'll Be Alone After Midnight (1931) is my least favorite in the entire bunch. It's certainly a film that I'm unlikely to forget any time soon, though. Only French filmmakers could even come up with a film like this one: a strange comedy which entirely focuses on adultery for it's comedy. It's lighthearted comedic tone completely betrays the more serious nature of the story-line. I've never seen a film before so casually make a joke out of affairs. To think it's a black-and-white film made during the 1930's is surprising.
The entire film is about adultery, divorce, and the nature of affairs. With a comic spin. As it's supposed to be funny to see these characters bounce around between each other. Literally, the entire cast of characters are having affairs with each other (or are wanting to). It makes for an unpleasant viewing experience. The film's cast of Mireillie Perrey, Pierre Bertin, Emile Saint-Ober, and Marcel Barencey seem totally invested in their respective roles, too.
Directed by Jacques de Barconcelli (Island Fisherman), this film is a workmanlike farce which doesn't succeed. Clouzot was one of the writers who worked on the script adaptation. Unfortunately, the film does not even remotely resemble his later works or give a glimpse of what would later come in his career. It's a film that is only memorable for being outlandish for a production made in the 1930's.
The Unknown Singer (1931) takes a different course. The film focuses on the somewhat surprising journey taken by an ordinary fisherman. Claude Ferval (Lucien Muratore) is a fisherman at sea who manages to become a singer. The story is about his journey along the way. The film is a rather light, comedic piece has plenty of music to boot. While it's not the most engaging story, the filmmaking is entertaining and effective. Clouzot contributed to the script. The music score by Rene Sylviano (One Step to Eternity) is a charming contribution. Directed by Victor Tourjansky (The Governor), the film is light fun and is most enjoyable during the music-oriented scenes: the jazz-infused style gives a nice and laid back style you can't help but enjoy.
The next spotlighted effort in the collection is The Terror of Batignolles (1931). The short film marks the directorial debut of Clouzot. With a screenplay written by Jacques de Baroncelli (La Reve), it's unfortunate that it does not display the greatness of the filmmaker's later works. As a debut film, it shows an understanding of the craft of filmmaking but not much more.
Though the piece aims to be a humorous comedy, the story deals with discussion on suicide and other serious subject matters. These matters feel trivialized by the comedic-tone of the filmmaking. This is something that was a drawback for me The short focuses on the strange happenstance of a burglar and an unusual encounter he has during the course of the film.
My Cousin from Warsaw (1931), directed by Carmine Gallone (who also did Dragnet Night, which is another film featured in this set), features a story which Clouzot contributed to with dialogue. In this film, an opera composer by the name of Archibald (Gustave Gallet) goes to visit a therapist and the meeting turns into a nightmare of events with the singer finding out about an affair going on with his wife. Featuring score music by Artur Guttmann and cinematography by Curt Courant, this is one of the collections least interesting films. The story-line isn't particularly enjoyable and the film feels quite rushed and ineffective.
Tell Me Tonight (1932) is a more engaging dramatic effort with some subtle comedy thrown into the mix. The film was adapted by Clouzot (featuring his own dialogue) from a script by Irma Von Cube (Street of Shadows). Directed by Anatole Litvak (The Snake Pit), the story explores the career of an opera singer, Enrico Ferraro (Jan Kiepura), as they try to juggle working with a very overbearing manager. The film has music by M. Spoliansky and cinematography by Robert Barberske, Willy Goldberger, and Fritz Arno Wagner.
In the most traditional "Hollywood" style film in the collection, Dream Castle, the storyline features a director on a mission to make a motion-picture at sea. The film is a sort of light comic truffle about the trials and tribulations the filmmakers face while working with the lead actress and cast and crew. While trying (with persistence) to put together the film, the filmmakers must assemble a legion of extras on their sea-escapade.
Dream Castle (1933) turns into a romantic-comedy-drama that feels unlike any of the other films in the collection, with a romance between the film star (whose key role in the film-within-a-film is that of a prince) with a local girl met while out on sea named Beatrix (Danielle Darrieux). Directed by Geza Von Bolvary (with assistant direction by Clouzot) the film is a charming (if light) truffle of a film that has a good nature to it. The screenplay written by Hans Heinz Zerlett is full of simple charms that make this a breeze to watch and it feels like a perfect Saturday matinee feature.
Fans of Henri-Georges Clouzot know that he's a master filmmaker with a understanding of the craft of the medium which is far more refined that most filmmakers. As Clouzot's a brilliant filmmaker, it makes sense that some fans would want to check out his origins as an artist with the early works that showcase his foot-prints before the revelation of his genius. However, this collection is one that doesn't necessarily deliver any revelations as early works which will stun and be considered alongside his later masterpieces. This set feels more scholarly and educational for those interested in the development of a filmmaker than essential.
The release includes all seven films with 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded high-definition presentations. Each film is presented in the original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. The B&W cinematography is also preserved. While these are high-definition presentations, it's obvious that little care went into restoring these features. Each film appears to be sourced from prints which showcase a lot of wear and tear to the prints. There's often dirt (or debris), sometimes cigarette burns on the corners, and unrefined film grain which demonstrates the film's age significantly.
Unlike some classic film preservation efforts that make such classics appear almost new (an amazing thing to experience with 1930's classics from time to time) this release feels more like a bare minimum effort to present these films in HD. There's still a noticeable uptick in clarity and resolution but most of these films suffer from significant presentation drawbacks. None of the films included are considered as great classics so it's clear less care went into preservation. Dream Castle is the worst transfer of the bunch with a blown-out looking image accompanying the significant print damage.
The audio fares even worse on this release. The films sound terrible with scratchy hiss and crackling sound throughout each feature. The dynamic range and depth is quite poor (frankly, it's to be expected given the age of the material) but the poor presentation quality extends beyond that. Many classics released on Blu-ray have had outstanding audio remasters but this release doesn't go that extra mile. There is not one film in the set with a truly impressive presentation (without horrible hiss or muffled sounding dialogue).
Each film is presented with 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio stereo tracks. English subtitles are provided for each feature film.
There are no extras on the discs themselves. The release does include a booklet featuring an essay written by film critic Peter Tonguette. The booklet also features cast and crew credits for the films.
Henri-Georges Clouzot (The Wages of Fear) is a brilliant filmmaker renowned all around the world. It's no surprise that a release would be created with some of his earliest efforts (on which he worked as a assistant director or screenwriter). From a scholarly perspective this set has much to delve into. It's fascinating to see the progression of an artist from someone learning the craft to becoming a true auteur. This set doesn't contain any exceptional films but it does include some entertaining ones. Students of film with a desire to take on an educational experience with this set will find it worth checking out (even if the films included don't suggest that genius to come from Clouzot). Unfortunately, given the poor PQ/AQ and lack of meaningful extras, it's worth a one-time-watch only.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.