L'Assassin Habite au 21 (1942)
July 20, 2015 3:04 PM - Subscribe

In this 1942 French comedy-thriller, a detective goes on the prowl for a murderer who manages to be everywhere at once. Also known as The Murderer Lives At Number 21. Available to stream commercial-free to Hulu subscribers here.

Part of the Criterion on Hulu film club. If you're not a Hulu subscriber, we've begun adding a second film each week that's free to non-subscribers. More info here.
posted by Ian A.T. (6 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks Ian - I'd posted this on the schedule intending to do the post myself and just remembered that today was the day.

A serial killer is stalking the streets of Paris... and it is down to the crafty Inspector Wens (Pierre Fresnay) and his ambitious girlfriend Mila Malou (Suzy Delair) to find the culprit. The film turns into a locked-room mystery when Wens, posing as a priest, takes up lodging at the boarding house (the titular #21). Fortunately for Wens, Malou follows him there to help him solve the crime and boost her career with the ensuing headlines.

This film, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, reminded me of early Hitchcock: there's a combination of farce and moments of true horror that you really don't see in films by either director after WWII. Interestingly, Pierre Fresnay also appeared in Hitchcock's first (and IMNSHO better) version of "The Man Who Knew Too Much" along with Peter Lorre. The denouement of the mystery actually makes some sense if you've been paying attention, which was a nice payoff.

Folks who've been following the emotional labor thread over on the green will probably want to throw bricks at the screen. That being said, Delair is a delight to watch, and her singing is poked fun at in the film but to modern ears it's charming. This film also manages to be both frank and disarming when it comes to sex, and I appreciated that greatly. American films came close to this approach only in pre-code days - we really haven't managed to do it since.

Clouzot, of course, went on to direct one of the most deeply disturbing tales of psychological terror ever filmed: Diabolique (1955). The classic Wages of Fear (1953) is also his.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 6:00 PM on July 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Finished it tonight and really enjoyed it. It was fun and charming and I was at least a little curious about the outcome (and surprised when it came). I was also surprised by the comfortable discussion of sex and murder - very French I guess!

My main takeaway was, what the hell was going on in 1942 in France? I mean, can someone contextualize this for me with the Vichy government and WWII?! How is there just this light farce about murder? I just don't feel like I get the context. I know there was plenty of escapist WWII era film in the US, but in France, the war was right on top of them. I would love to understand how the film industry there worked at that time.
posted by latkes at 10:18 PM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

@latkes - somehow a light farce about murder coming out of Vichy France makes perfect sense to me. Denial aisle, you know. I'd imagine the censors would have been quite OK with it.

Interestingly, Clouzot also directed Le Corbeau (1943), which can be seen as a parable for what was going on at the time in France. Per the linked Criterion article, the film was derided both by the Vichy regime and the Catholic Church (hah) but only after the liberation was it banned. The French could not blame all of the horrors of the time on the occupying forces, but many didn't want to look at that.

Off to add Le Corbeau to the film club list. Update: drat, looks like Hulu doesn't have it. Not sure why.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 3:42 AM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

An interesting coincidence: this film, last week's free film—The Last Métro—and our other film this week, Friday's Au revoir les infants, are all French films concerned with the Nazi Occupation. It will be interesting to compare all three when we've completed them (though I'd wager that only ernielundquist will get to all three!)
posted by Ian A.T. at 8:15 AM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I guess it's time to confess that I fell asleep halfway through.

It wasn't an editorial nap or anything. I was enjoying the movie. I was just tired and I conked out.

I am going to watch the rest of it in a minute or the next couple of days, though. I'm kind of invested in my Criterion Club record at this point, and I also love that an accidental theme cropped up like that.
posted by ernielundquist at 4:30 PM on July 23, 2015

I know you put "comedy" right in the slug line Ian A.T., but I didn't expect to laugh as much as I did. This one was really entertaining. I was impressed by the whip-turn red herrings in the last 20 minutes that make you suspect one of the residents and then another.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:58 AM on August 3, 2015

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