Quai des Orfèvres ★★★★

The tense, lovingly shot, sometimes morbid but strangely symmetrical tale of a murder investigation in which the prime suspects are a singer, her jealous husband and a Midge-like compassionate onlooker, this resembles Hollywood noir more than the rest of Clouzot's classic thrillers, not least because it envisions something other than an absolutely claustrophobic pessimism about the human race. This may in fact be the reason it doesn't seem as bold or haunting as Diabolique, The Wages of Fear or even Le Corbeau; indeed, it's something of a cakewalk compared to the poetic realism films made in France a decade earlier, particularly Pepe le Moko. Oddly, though, its deep-down message about the tenuousness and vitality of deep emotional connections may in fact be harder-won after a fashion, though I have no clue if it's any closer to Clouzot's true outlook. At any rate, the cranky but colorful and morose Inspector Antoine (Louis Jouvet) has precisely the sort of barely-hidden fatalism and intriguing backstory and inner life (he always has somewhere he'd rather be, namely with the kid who was supposed to get an erector set until he failed his exams, but he'll get it for Christmas anyway) that might have rescued the Columbo-like private eye Charles Vanel played in Diabolique from being such a near-fatal irritant. Clouzot and Jean Ferry's script is notable less for its adaptation of an overly neat story than for its impressively taut, evocative dialogue: the description of prison reduced to "they'll cut your hair, and it's cold"; or the sad chronicle of living on "lousy pork meat, washing ourselves in the sink." It's hard to be wrapped up in the mystery of it all when it seems as if these characters' day-to-day lives would be even richer, more compelling.

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