Le Corbeau Reviews
Some wicked person begins sending anonymous, poison-pen letters around a small French town. They are inked in a distinctive style and signed "Le Corbeau." The notes' main target is Dr. Rémy Germain, whose vulnerable spots are his dalliances with women and a willingness to give abortions (a daring ingredient for a 1943 film). At least initially, the slanderous accusations greatly damage his stature in the community. The town becomes more and more agitated as the taunts continue to arrive in mailboxes, and the uproar reaches a frenzy after one note causes a suicide.
The tricky script sets up multiple plausible suspects and remains suspenseful, but scene after scene of misplaced suspicions and aghast letter readings threatens to turn repetitive. And the final act is gimmicky to the point of stretching credibility -- suddenly, the reality of this world fades and we're only watching someone's flashy screenplay.
Clouzot's direction fails to excite beyond one scene lit by a swinging light bulb -- this is workmanlike storytelling. And unfortunately, the idea of "poison-pen letters" seems a bit dated in this age of email and blogs. Fans hoping for the thrills of "Diabolique" and "The Wages of Fear" may be disappointed.
Shot in 1943 when France was under German occupation, this dark mystery thriller was critised from both the political right wing and left. The Catholic Church denounced it's morbid subject matter and The Communists objected to what they percieved as a Nazi propaganda piece portaying the French in a less than flattering light. Because Henri- George Clouzet, the director made the film under a German owned studio he was banned from making films for two years after France's liberation. He eventually got to make another film and Le Corbeau was rereleased, this time to a better reception. Clouzot would go on to have a successful career directing classic thrillers such as Les Diaboliques (1955) and Wages Of Fear (1954), even gaining the nickname as a French Hitchcock.
I find that many French films have a matter of fact detachment from the audience as opposed to British and American films which are often more involving. But there is a romantic undertone and beauty and Le Corbeau, underneath it's morbid subject matter is no exception. What I love about French cinema is it's mixture of tragedy and romance, it's realism and fantasy. Contradictions that gave us Poetic Realism, a precursor to Film Noir which came about several years before the release of Le Corbeau. The unravelling of the mystery is the main focus of the plot but the ineffectual male authorities are shown to be weak. Perhaps this is a critique of the French government before and after the Fall of France. Unlike many other Film Noirs Le Corbeau is shot mainly during the day in stark contast to it's murky plot and this helps add atmosphere and tension as the otherwise normal town is seemingly on the verge of a breakdown.
Overall this is a well acted, gripping thriller with many red herrings. Recommended.
Oh yes, and I rented some movies:
Days of Heaven