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Blue Panther (aka Marie-Chantal vs. Doctor Ka)
Claude Charbol's 1965 film, Blue Panther, also known as Marie-Chantal vs. Doctor Ka, takes place on a train heading through the mountains of Europe into Switzerland. Here we meet a dashing secret agent named Bruno Kerrien (Roger Hanin) who gives to a woman named Marie-Chantal (Marie Laforêt) a valuable jewel shaped like a panther with rubies in place of eyes. What Marie-Chantal doesn't realize, obviously, is that inside the ‘blue panther' gem is a virus so destructive that it could literally put an end to human life on Earth.
Enter the sinister Doctor Kha (Akim Tamiroff), a foreign agent bound and determined to acquire the blue panther and the virus it contains no matter the cost. And Kha isn't the only foreign agent out to steal what Marie-Chantal has been entrusted with, in fact, there's a whole manner of people more than willing to put our poor heroine six feet underground, should they need to, in order to get the gem. As the story progresses and the plot frequently thickens, we follow along with Marie-Chantal as she takes on one foe after another in an unwitting quest to keep the world safe from the virus' destructive powers.
Featuring supporting turns from Francisco Rabal, Serge Reggiani, Charles Denner and the always alluring Stéphane Audran (a Chabrol regular), Blue Panther isn't meant to be taken too seriously and it's clear that Chabrol was having fun with this picture, surely hoping that the audience would as well. Without ever stopping and winking at the audience, Chabrol and company parody better known spy pictures like the James Bond movies and the OSS 117 series (both series having been popular in France around this time). That said, our female lead isn't a spy, and that's where much of the humor in the film comes from, she's simply a regular person (albeit one with a fair bit of craftiness and resourcefulness), which makes her the perfect foil for Doctor Kha, given that he always seems to know exactly what the spies and secret agents will do in specific situations, but never Marie-Chantal.
Chabrol paces the film well, keeping things interesting by providing audiences with the right mix of humor, action and, yes, even some legitimately compelling suspense all in fairly equal measure. The cinematography is very strong, with pretty much every frame of the picture beautifully framed and equally beautifully lit. The different European locales used throughout the picture give the film an appropriately exotic flavor and there's really no shortage of eye candy on display here in terms of the sets and locations off of which the action is staged.
As to the acting? Again, no one is taking any of this particularly seriously but the cast does a nice job with the material they're given. Marie Laforêt is the star of the show and for good reason, she's as charming as she is beautiful. Having played opposite Jean-Paul Belmondo in The Gentle Art Of Seduction a few years prior, she'd been acting for a goof four years or so by the time this picture was made and seems very comfortable and natural fin front of the camera. Akim Tamiroff, however, steals more than a few scenes as the film's diabolical villain. He and most of the other ‘heavies' in the film are quite funny but Tamiroff in particular has some of the best lines and delivers them perfectly.
Blue Panther arrives on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.66.1 widescreen taking up 36GBs of space on a 50GB disc. Taken from a new 4k restoration of the original negative courtesy of Studio Canal, it looks great. Detail is nice and strong and the image is free of any noticeable print damage, it's remarkably clean, while still retaining the film grain you'd want it to. Colors are reproduced nicely, there's strong depth and texture throughout and the picture is devoid of any noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifact related issues.
The only audio option for the feature is a French language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono but it sounds just fine. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. The iconic score from Morricone sounds wonderful here, you can really make out the different instruments used in the music and it helps to enhance the mood substantially. Dialogue stays clean and clear throughout and the track is nicely balanced. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note, nor is there any audible sibilance.
Extras start off with a new audio commentary from film historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson that, like most of their tracks, is a pretty engaging talk. They talk about how this is an atypical film for Chabrol, who is most often associated with 'slow burn suspense' but that it is a film that demonstrates his excellent sense of humor. They talk about the origins of the characters in the picture and the books that inspired the film, the quality of the score, the ghoulish humor employed in some of the murder scenes and the film's use of violence, notes on the life and times of the different cast and crew members, Chabrol's own cameo on the film, similarities to Blake Edwards' movies, the film's unique visual style, who the film feels like Chabrol still trying to find his voice as a director, how the film compares to some of the better known James Bond films, the delicate lighting and camerawork in the picture, and, of course, their own thoughts on the movie as it plays out in front of them. It makes for an interesting listen.
Aside from that, we get bonus trailers for The Champagne Murders, OSS 117: Panic In Bangkok, OSS 117: Mission For A Killer, Fantomas Unleashed, Fantomas Vs. Scotland Yard, Arabesque and Masquerade, menus and chapter selection options.
Blue Panther may not be the film that Claude Chabrol is remembered for but it is a really fun send up of sixties spy thrillers that boasts strong production values and a great cast. Kino's Blu-ray isn't stacked with extras but the commentary is a good one and the movie gets a very nice restored high definition presentation with this release. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.