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July 01, 2009

Nuits Rouges

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Georges Franju - 1974
Eureka! Masters of Cinema Region 2 DVD

As long as Hollywood is married to the idea that any film made needs to be based on a comic book, television series, or previously made film, I am astounded that no one has thought of remaking Nuits Rouge. Yes, the film was hardly a success, released at the worst possible time in France when the entire country was virtually on strike, while New Line dropped the ball with the U.S. release, titled Shadowman. But what a sales pitch could be made! The plot could be described as The Dark Knight and The DaVinci Code, plus killer zombies. Best of all for those concerned about upsetting the Vatican is that the Templars are the good guys.

Much of the credit should go to Jacques Champreux who wrote and stars in the film. Inspired by Republic Studios serials, Lon Chaney, as well as the serials of his grandfather Louis Feuillade, Champreux plays the villainous master of disguise who is usually seen with his head covered completely by a red mask with only is eyes visible. This villain is known as the man without a face, yet anyone familiar with Franju's most famous film probably can't help but be reminded of the masked Edith Scob, Franju's Eyes without a Face. The faceless man is after a lost treasure, said to be found in a sunken vessel in the Caribbean. The faceless man has an army of men whose faces are equally covered, but in black, a beautiful female assistant, and a deranged doctor in his employ. Seen thirty-five years later, the technology of hidden video cameras and tiny microphones is enjoyably retro while the intent at the time was futuristic. There are also the secret passageways and safes found behind oversized paintings. And of course, attractive women in skintight catsuits or black tights never are out of style.

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Georges Franju had always dreamed of making his own version of Fantomas. As it turned out, it was the woman in the catsuit, Gayle Hunnicutt, who starred in a version made for West German television six years later. Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote extensively about Feuillade prior to Les Vampires being made available on DVD, touching on Franju's homages. One can intellectualize all one wants to about Franju and Feuillade, but Feuillade's most lasting contribution has been in the creation of a cinematic icon. Musidora has Irma Vep paved the way for the various incarnations of Batman's Catwoman, Mrs. Peel, and Maggie Cheung as a late 20th Century Irma Vep. That also includes Cat-women of the Moon, but this is about an image that moves from film to film. Had I the ability to make screen grabs from a Region 2 DVD, I certainly would. The best I can do is offer a link to Tim Lucas's series of screengrabs. I can tell you that Rouges Nuit is almost worth the price of admission just to watch Hunnicutt in black, with that bountiful red hair.

The DVD interview with Champreux is worth watching to learn the history of how Nuits Rouges was made, and almost undone by a Yugoslavian crew. Aside from Judex, which I had the opportunity to see theatrically a couple of times in New York City, and Eyes without a Face, the only other Franju film I've been able to see was Thomas the Imposter, also many years ago. A film like Nuits Rouges, which probably seemed out of synch with the times in 1974 probably works better thirty-five years later when it's old fashion aspects would be less of a problem, much in the way that John Ford's anachronistic Seven Women looks less dated than, for example, Murderer's Row. The homage to cinema's silent era could be in part why the Nuits Rouges cast also includes Josephine Chaplin. Seeing Nuits Rouges back-to-back with Judex easily demonstrates that the two films are more similar than Franju have been willing to admit. Whatever may be lacking in budget, especially for special effects, Nuits Rouges makes up for abundantly with its low tech charm.

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Posted by peter at July 1, 2009 12:41 AM


OK, that's it...Enough talking about it, I've got to get off my butt and get a damn region-free DVD player. It was one of my new year's resolutions, but we're halfway through already...

Needless to say, this looks great.

Posted by: Bob Turnbull at July 2, 2009 07:56 PM