Quai des Orfevres

An urbane police procedural, a cracking whodunnit, a Golddiggers sex comedy and a stealth backstage musical, Henri-Georges Clouzot's sprightly entertainment Quai des Orfevres (1947) concerns -- eventually -- the murder of a film producer who was, before his death, infatuated with Suzy Delair's singer/paragon of sass, Jenny Lamour. She's as forward as her name, a go-getter so adept at go-getting she actually calls herself a go-getter. We meet her auditioning as a singer in a sharpie agent's office; mid-song Clouzot cuts, and she's already onstage at a music hall, a star willing herself into being for the delectation of a crowd. It takes some 40 minutes before the corpse turns up, but not a scene is wasted: Clouzot and his restless camera track lives that seem already to have been unfolding before we're invited in to regard them. Paris bustles in his backgrounds, a riotous can-can one moment and a shadowed dreamscape the next; faces pack his frames, often in arrestingly complex compositions.

As in Le Corbeau, none of the broke and suspicious characters are eager to involve the cops in their lives. (The police are represented by Louis Jouvet as the detective in charge of the case; Inspector Antoine, worn down by a war wound, often finds himself defending the honor of police work itself, and memorably details just how much money his investigation is costing the department.) The film surges along, its pacing as modern as its morals. At one point, Clouzot crosscuts between suspect after suspect, each in heated interrogations, each insisting they weren't involved in the murder, and a late sequence involving blood on the floor of a jail cell still stings and surprises.


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