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  Champagne Murders, The Absolutely Fizzing
Year: 1967
Director: Claude Chabrol
Stars: Anthony Perkins, Maurice Ronet, Yvonne Furneaux, Stéphane Audran, Annie Vidal, Henry Jones, Catherine Sola, George Skaff, Christa Lang, Marie-Ange Anies, Suzanne Lloyd
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Christopher (Anthony Perkins) and Paul (Maurice Ronet) are fast friends involved in the champagne business, making a fortune out of it, but together they have a self-destructive streak and tend to use alcohol - not only champagne - as a method of getting through the day, and indeed the night. Recently they were out in Paris one evening when they were driving along and saw a woman in a violent argument with her boyfriend, so decided to break this up and give the lady a lift. This was going well until they parked in a remote part of countryside and a gang of men suddenly descended on them, beating the two pals severely...

This is the reason Paul not only doesn't trust his behaviour anymore, but is apparently seeing that behaviour become ever more erratic, and everyone around him is noticing how badly he has been affected. Well, we only have the film's word for that because we are denied much of a chance to see what he was like before he smashed his head on the windscreen of his sports car, but this act of pretty nasty brutality influenced everything that went after in the film. Yet while there was undoubtedly physical violence, as the title indicates, what appeared to be more important to the piece was emotional violence, bourgeoisie-style.

The Champagne Murders was to be director Claude Chabrol's only American film, as Universal stumped up the budget for this when the cult filmmaker was at a low point in his career. That's the trouble with courting a cult of admirers: as Robert Altman says, a cult is not enough people to make a minority, and though Chabrol had his followers, they were only intermittently enough to sustain him for some stretches of his filmography, this mid-sixties period being one of them. His nickname of The French Hitchcock, while it flattered him, was proving to be more of a liability at the box office when those who saw his work would think, hmm, not very suspenseful.

Actually, what The Champagne Murders would be more accurately termed as was a black comedy of manners, where as often in France the middle and upper classes were the target of vitriolic portrayals, and this bunch were not going to be sympathetic to anyone, not even themselves. It was interesting to see Perkins in a French Hitchcock movie as opposed to a British one made in America (as in Psycho), one supposed, and he came across as enjoying the arch ins and outs of the plot though the question of whether his character was as messed up as Norman Bates must have been on the minds of all who saw this back in the late sixties until the grand finale revealed all. For many, however, it was hardly worth the journey.

So sour was this collection of fabulously well-to-do vipers that the audience could feel as if the venom was contagious and they would not wish to spend time with them, especially when they were really no fun at all. Some witty lines would have helped, but obvious dubbing throughout (despite most of the cast speaking English) put you at a further distance from the characters, and the performances failed to impress as natural. That was all very well when it was an exaggerated milieu we were dealing with, but they were a rum lot so once the murders finally began, it was difficult to warm to the sniping and over the top, bad behaviour on display. What was worth hanging around for was the ending, which included a big reveal that would be more effective if you did not recognise a certain someone before, and a conclusion that was no conclusion at all, merely a sustained struggle as the players involved descend into Hell. Patchy, but if you could tolerate the acid, some interest. Music by Pierre Jansen (great title sequence!).
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Claude Chabrol  (1930 - 2010)

A renowned director of French thrillers, he was one of the originators of the French New Wave of the fifties and sixties, often concentrating on middle class characters going through crises that led to murder, and made around fifty of these films in his long career. Starting with Le Beau Serge in 1958, he went on to direct such respected efforts as Les Cousins, The Champagne Murders, Les Biches, This Man Must Die, Le Boucher, Blood Relatives, Poulet au Vinaigre, a version of Madame Bovary with frequent star Isabelle Huppert, L'enfer, La Ceremonie, The Girl Cut in Two with Ludivine Sagnier, and his final work for the cinema, Bellamy with Gerard Depardieu.

 
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