Back to the Wall

Back to the Wall ★★★★

20th film of 2023: Le dos au mur/Back to the Wall (Molinaro, 1958) this is an outstanding example of the French film noir/crime thriller that has been forgotten for some reason until know as it is part of Kino Lorber's French film noir collection. It is a gem of a film that allows Edouard Molinaro in his debut as a director to establish his skills with crafting a visual story about revenge, jealousy, and murder-- elements familiar to most noir films. The opening sequence is a masterpiece of storytelling, visual mood, and use of sound and music as it depicts a mysterious man run out into the night from a mansion and then get into his car. The viewer then follows the man as he methodically and quietly enters the apartment of another man who is on the floor dead. Tension builds as the mysterious man gathers the dead man's things together puts them into a suitcase and then wraps the body into a carpet before exiting the apartment. Most of these sequences lack dialogue and rely on music and sound to build tension as the story really begins when the mysterious man in voice-over narration explains how he came to the moment of burying the body of the other man in concrete. As he narrates there is a flashback to previous events where the identities of the key figures in this tale of tragedy and betrayal are revealed; they include the protagonist Mon. Decry (Gerard Oury) a wealthy industrialist who is insanely jealous after he learns by accidentally discovery that his beautiful young wife Gloria (Jeanne Moreau) has been having an affair with her old boyfriend Yves Normand (Philippe Nicaud) a struggling actor. Decry once he catches them concocts a diabolical plan where he blackmails his wife and her lover hoping to force her to eventually reveal her indiscretion but as the the couple band together to deal with the blackmailer and she does not seek his counsel, Decry becomes even more angry and committed to the plan. Unfortunately, the plan takes a dangerous turn when Decry enlists the aid of Normand's boss and ex-lover Ghislaine (Claire Maurier) to convince Gloria that the person behind the blackmailing scheme is Normand, whom she confronts and then accidentally shoots with his own gun. The ending sequences equally match the audacity of the opening as Molinaro returns to show how Decry, who in the beginning of the film is set up as the killer, is only trying to coverup the crime and protect his wife. Just as Decry feels vindicated and that his marriage is rescued, on Christmas Eve Gloria discovers the truth and kills herself but not before implicating Decry in her crimes. The final shot of a jackhammer digging into the wall at Decry's business is a powerful image after Decry admits his crimes when a police inspector reads the written confession Gloria left behind. 

Cinematographer Robert Lefebvre peppers the film with familiar noir tropes such as inky shots of night, images of bars, and threatening shadows, as well as the use of low angle shots.

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