Sunday, May 28, 2017

SPOTLIGHT ON A MURDERER: one of Georges Franju's lesser works hits Blu-ray/DVD

If you've ever wanted to learn more about those semi-famous son et lumières that were born in France back in the 1950s and then came to international prominence in the 60s, have I got the film for you! Rather pedestrian in all other ways, this disappearing-corpse-that-then-turns-into-a-murder-mystery movie was directed and co-adapted by Georges Franju, the fellow who gave us the enduring Eyes Without a Face and the lesser-known but lovely WWI fantasia, Thomas The Imposter.

In the Special Features section of this nicely produced Blu-ray disc, M. Franju, shown at left, discusses the film on camera in footage made during the shooting of this 1961 release. The filmmaker explains that he wanted his movie to be all sorts of things -- from mysterious to thrilling to funny, surprising and more. SPOTLIGHT ON A MURDERER is all of those things. What it isn't, however, is very good. The film was co-written by the team of Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who gave us the novels upon which both Diabolique and Vertigo was based, as well as the adaptation of the much better Eyes Without a Face.

This odd mixture of tones worked better in other Franju films. Here, however, it combines with the typical and not particularly convincing "mystery" tropes and the lavish attention to detail regarding the design and execution of the son et lumière in a manner that becomes almost a kind of "exercise" in weirdly near-experimental film-making.

It's fun for buffs, certainly, and for Franju "completists," too, but it will probably leave the more typical arthouse/foreign film patron scratching his head -- in wonderment. Or annoyance.

On the plus side is the very starry (for its day) cast of pros, led by a young and slickly handsome Jean-Louis Trintignant and the then popular Dany Saval (both shown above), with names like Pierre Brasseur (below) and the sleazily sexy Philippe Leroy in supporting roles.

The plot has to do with an old, wealthy Count who inhabits a fabulous French castle and one day disappears. When his would-be heirs gather, what they learn sets off the plot in which, one after another, they begin being "bumped off."

Modern-day movie-goers will remain a few steps ahead of the plot at all times -- except for a couple of genuine surprises along the way. And the use of the castle for the son et lumière, the design and execution of which (above) cleverly figure into a few of the murders, is also fun. If only the film's pacing had been a bit faster.

Still, the chance to see a Franju film of which few of us will have heard should prove enticing to many, as will the chance to view M. Trintignant so young and spry.

From Arrow Films' new Arrow Academy division, in French with English subtitles and running 95 minutes, Spotlight on a Murderer is distributed here in the USA via MVD Entertainment Group and hits the street for purchase and/or (I hope) rental this Tuesday, May 30.

As usual with Arrow's endeavors, the transfer is excellent, bringing the black-and-white cinematography to crisp, sharp life. Extras includes the original trailer for the film, plus that aforementioned interview, which is part of a made-for-French-television documentary from Le courrier de cinéma series shot during film-making in 1959 and aired on New Year's day 1960. The documentary includes interviews with Franju, Brasseur, Trintignant, Saval and other actors and runs 28 minutes.

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