Quai des Orfèvres

Quai des Orfèvres (1947) movie poster

(1947) dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot
viewed: 02/18/03 at Castro Theater, SF, CA

I really don’t take advantage of some of the real perks of living in San Francisco as much as I should. We have such fantastic repertory cinemas that play such cool and interesting movies that I should never have to find myself standing in some megaplex theater debating which of the latest Hollywood crap to see. It’s a crying shame. And it’s a shame that I feel this most poignently when I do actually make my way to the likes of the Red Vic, the Roxie, or jewel of the city’s cinemas, the Castro Theater. Its well-noted beauty and excellent slate of films really should entice me more frequently. It makes me want to alter my viewing habits entirely.

I hadn’t actually heard of Quai des Orfèvres before reading about it in the paper last week when the film debuted at the Castro. It sounded cool, especially since I have liked director Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) and had also been interested in seeing his 1953 film The Wages of Fear. The paper described it roughly as a sort of French noir film, shot on location in Paris only shortly after the end of WWII.

The world of the film is indeed shadowy and suspicious and is filmed with a polish not unlike its contemporary Hollywood B-fare of the time. Its style and look sort of accentuate the ribald and explicit nature of the language of the film, something one might expect in pre-code Hollywood perhaps, but certainly not in a post-war film. I don’t know how much of a misnomer it is to dub this film as noir.

It features an interesting, world-weary Inspector character, played by Louis Jouvet, back from his tour of duty in Africa with an adoptive son (which seems potentially quite metaphorical) and an colorful portrait of the operations of the the French police. There is a lot of interesting stuff here: the wonderful burlesque theater backdrop (with innumerable amusing background goings-on), the lesbian photographer/family friend (and her portrayal, which was both more explicit and sympathetic than one might expect from the time period), and the nighttime shots of the wet Paris streets, only a couple of years after the occupation (as noted by the SF Chronicle, as I mentioned above). The world of the film, which is replete with such interesting details, seems to address itself to the nature of post-war France through this tale of folks who are presumably not living on the right side of the tracks, so to speak.

The bigger picture seems less concrete to me than many of the smaller details. It’s one of those kind of things where I think that I will remember images and things from this film, down the road, while I might forget most aspects of the narrative itself. That is pure supposition on my part, of course.

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