Monday, 3 October 2016

Return from the Ashes - 1965 film review

I've mentioned the French crime novelist Hubert Monteilhet several times on this blog. Along with Boileau and Narcejac, Sebastien Japrisot, Catherine Arley and Robert Thomas, he took the post-war French story of suspense in fresh directions, and like those other writers, his work proved eminently filmable. Thanks to Sergio of that excellent blog Tipping My Fedora, I've become aware of two films of his book.Return from the Ashes. One was Phoenix, which I reviewed earlier this year and which updates the story in a very radical way. The other dates from 1965 and is rather more faithful to the original.

J. Lee Thompson does, I think, a pretty good job of turning the book into a dark and brooding movie with music by John Dankworth. The excellent cast is extremely well differentiated. Ingrid Thulin, a gifted actor who made a great impression on me many years ago in Bergman's well-regarded if rather depressing Cries and Whispers, plays the part of Michele, a very attractive and very rich widow who is also a successful doctor. Unfortunately, she falls for a good for nothing chess player (Maximilian Schell). They marry, but Michele is immediately arrested by the Nazis, and is thought to have died during the war.

In fact, she has survived the horrors of Dachau, but when she comes back home she finds that Stan, the chess-playing husband, has begun an affair with Fabi, her step-daughter, who hates her. Various complications ensue, but despite the warning words of her long-term admirer Charles (the splendid Herbert Lom) Michele remains devoted to Stan. But then Fabi tries to persuade Stan to murder Michele, so that they can be together forever, with the benefit of Michele's fortune....

I really enjoyed this one, and I'm glad that Sergio directed my attention to it. The film provides a good example of French domestic suspense, which I think has a highly distinctive flavour. The music contributes to the mood, and the acting is so good that the highly melodramatic plot seems not too implausible. It's a real shame that Monteilhet and his work are not better known in this country.


1 comment:

J F Norris said...

Perfect example of a film adaptation being superior to the book, IMO. There are added elements not found in the novel that work very well and add suspense. I thought the book was very flawed. The translation I read was also dreary and boring at times.