Back to the Wall

Back to the Wall ★★★★

The opening 15-minutes of Back to the Wall is a masterful sequence of how to get away with murder. With nary more than a few lines of dialogue delivered by ancillary characters, it plays out like the most methodical and tension-filled silent thriller ever made. Are there any good examples of movies from the silent era that utilized ambient sound to illicit dread opposed to sweeping orchestral scores?

I generally have a negative relationship with French cinema, but if Édouard Molinaro has shown me anything it's that French noir might be right up my alley. Back to the Wall is as much as noir as it is a gaslighting horror movie from the perspective of the gaslighter. A wealthy industrialist discovers his wife is having an affair, and rather than confront her he decides to torment her by becoming his own blackmailer. It's one thing to grow irate at someone who has wronged you, but quite another beast to take it as an opportunity to crush them back under your heel. Molinaro cleverly constructs this story to set a false pretense of where it is headed. Hopefully without spoiling anything, the title takes on three distinct meanings: the wife's back being against the wall for fear her husband will discover the truth, the husband's back against the wall when his impish scheme escalates further than he intended, and the movie itself inevitably returning back to the wall.

I also wish to praise the evocative imagery in this film. Look no further than the banner image on this very LetterBoxd page, with the wife starring out the window, the rain becoming the tears she herself has stoned herself against shedding. So good. So good in fact that I'm considering giving French comedies another go. See, Édouard Molinaro not only directed French noir in the '50s, but he is also responsible for the ever popular La Cage aux Folles, which of course would go on to be remade with Nathan Lane and Robin Williams when Hollywood ran out of ideas of their own.

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