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  Nuits Rouges The Man That Got Away
Year: 1974
Director: Georges Franju
Stars: Gayle Hunnicutt, Jacques Champreux, Josephine Chaplain, Ugo Pagliai, Gert Fröbe, Patrick Préjean, Raymond Bussières, Clément Harari, Henry Soskin, Yvon Sarray, Pierre Collet, Enzo Fisichella, Roberto Bruni, Gérard Croce, Jean Saudray
Genre: Thriller, Science Fiction, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Albert (Yvon Sarray) is the manservant of a rich businessman, and he is also in debt to a mysterious criminal known only as The Man Without a Face (Jacques Champreux), so he hopes his associations will get him out of trouble. He goes to see a contact, an old lady who works in the village shop, and she is unimpressed that he has not settled his account with her boss, but he has a proposal: he can offer the villain strong clues to the treasure of the Knights Templar, as he can wheedle them out of his master. The old lady sends him away, then straightens, takes off her spectacles and whips off her wig, revealed to be the mystery man himself!

Georges Franju's final film for the cinema was a reprise of his earlier work Judex, but where that was what he made when he could not secure the rights to Louis Feuillade's classic character Fantomas, this is what he made when he erm, could not secure the rights to Fantomas. Therefore the Man Without a Face in this is that character in all but name, and to add to the connections Feuillade's grandson Champreux, who had been so keen to remake his grandfather's celebrated serial, played the role.

Nuits Rouges, or Shadowman as it was sometimes known, was actually made simultaneously with a television serial called L'Homme sans visage, which was essentially the same tale told on a lower budget and at greater length. It was all going well until the fillmmakers returned from shooting in Belgrade and found their more expensive - and visually impressive - movie footage had been stolen and they were forced to use the television series' lower budget footage to plug the gaps in their narrative.

As if it were not episodic enough as it was. But in truth this was the style they were aiming for, that of the old serials which proliferated in the first half of the twentieth century, and their villain with his mastery of disguise and red mask could have fit snugly into one of those vintage adventures. Franju is patently engaged with this dastard and his schemes, and the scenes where they are implemented are the best. Alas, the rest of the film suffers, with Gert Fröbe essaying the kind of police inspector he could do in his sleep, and the heroes a colourless bunch simply present to put a spanner in the works of the latest plan to get hold of a collection of tablets.

These tablets will provide the pointers to the actual treasure of the Templars, and The Man Without a Face (couldn't they have thought up a snappier name?) will stop at nothing to get them. This includes ordering his mad doctor accomplice to create an army of zombies (well, a few of them, anyway) and unleashing living shop dummies suspiciously reminiscent of the Doctor Who enemies The Autons on our good guys. As Franju wanted another rooftop chase, there is one of them, too, with right hand woman Gayle Hunnicutt cutting a stylish figure in a catsuit and mask, firing deadly darts from a blowpipe at her pursuers. It ends optimistically with the promise of a sequel that never arrived, and needed a more lavish appearance to really do justice to its concepts, but if patchy is entertaining for all that. Music by Franju.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Georges Franju  (1912 - 1987)

French director with a poetic visual style and an important figure in film archival. In 1937 co-founded the Cinematheque Française, which became France's most renowned archive and where he worked full time until 1949. Franju's first film was the controversial abatoir documentary Blood of the Beasts, and other documentary shorts followed, such as Hôtel des Invalides and Mon Chien.

Franju's feature debut was the intense asylum drama Head Against the Wall in 1959, while Eyes Without a Face has become something of a horror classic. Subsequent work is less well known, although the superhero yarn Judex and the Jean Cocteau adaptation Thomas the Imposter were equally distinctive pictures.

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