Director: Georges Franju
Script: Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac & Georges Franju
Cast: Pierre Brasseur, Pascale Audret, Marianne Koch, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Danny Saval
Running time: 90 minutes
The film begins with an old man, Count Hervẻ de Kerloquen (Pierre Brasseur), wearing an elaborate Knight of Malta costume, wandering around his castle abode looking weary and somewhat confused. He finally picks up a doll and secretes himself in a secret room behind a large mirror.
The scene then shifts to a young couple driving through the French countryside in a sports car. They pull over and he gets changed into smart funeral attire behind a nearby standing stone. Shortly after, the girl drops him off at the end of a long driveway heading towards the same castle that we saw at the beginning of the film. I’m not sure why she couldn’t have dropped him off a bit nearer the ‘house’…
The young man, called Jean-Marie, is at the castle to attend the reading of his presumed dead uncle’s will. The other members of the family are already there, waiting on him. The solicitor reminds them that none of them can get a penny of their inheritance for at least three years unless a body is found. It seems that Jean’s uncle has played a cruel joke on all his hungry-for-wealth heirs by hiding himself away when death was just a heartbeat away.
Obviously, none of the gathered clan are very happy with the solicitor’s news, and they initially decide to search the place from top to bottom for the secret room in order to hurry-along the collection of their shared inheritance. When their search doesn’t go well Jean’s girlfriend later suggests they pay the castle’s bills, in the interim, by hosting a historical re-enactment of some of their forebear’s activities, especially a centuries old tale of a romance that ended in sorrow with the lady of the partnership in question jumping to her death from the top of one of the castle’s formidable towers.
As the group prepare for the ‘open-day’ strange things start to happen and a few of them are killed accidentally, or at least that’s what they think at first. However, if the deaths aren’t attributable to accidents, could one of their number being killing his/her cousins off so they can inherit more, or even all, of the money? More will die before the truth will come out…
Being a major fan of George Franju’s masterpiece Eyes without a Face I was keen to review this lesser known film from his oeuvre. Plus, with a good calibre of writer on-board – Boileau and Narcwjac of Les Diaboliques and Vertigo fame – I thought I was in for an interesting and enjoyable cinematic ride.
Spotlight on a Murderer is certainly worth watching, but to me, at least, it had that intangible something missing, which separates a mediocre movie from a good one. For a start, I found Franju’s pacing a little slower than was required and, typical of so many French films, just when momentum is gathering pace the narrative will come to a temporary pause to accommodate a meal scene; frequently surplus to requirement to drive the plot forward. Spotlight… is quite languidly paced for the most part, but still holds one’s attention through its interesting locations, good acting, and great set design.
Unfortunately, there are many shots that outstay their welcome unnecessarily, which then does have the knock-on effect of draining away any tension from the film, when there should be some. And, since Spotlight on a Murderer is at least masquerading as a murder-mystery, you’d think that director Franju would wish to develop a little tension in his audience. Apparently not though, if his interview in the extras section is anything to go by, since he says that: ‘I’m not interested in suspense, but I’m drawn to the poetry of things.’ I’m not entirely sure what he means by that, but it sounds a bit arty and pretentious so I’m sure lots of mainstream film critics lapped it up as eagerly as a pack of thirsty dogs.
Arrow have done a great job of sprucing the film up and it looks and sounds great; not at all like some other films knocking around that are over 55 years old.
Spotlight on a Murderer is being distributed by Arrow Academy on DVD and Blu-ray. Extras include:
- A trailer (3.5 mins) – way too long;
- Le Courrier du Cinema (27 mins) – a French TV documentary about the shoot of the film, featuring several short interviews with director Georges Franju, actors Pascal Audret, Pierre Brasseur, Maria Koch, Dany Saval and Jean-Louis Trintignant. We learn that the film was shot in Brittany at the Chateau de Goulaine, a 15th Century castle, and that actress Maria Koch was studying medicine when she first got into acting. She’d done 38 films by this point, one being Night People with Gregory Peck. Georges Franju describes his movie as ‘an atmospheric film about an aristocratic family who are decadent.’ The sound and picture quality are good; all in B & W.