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December 15, 2011

Rider on the Rain

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Le passager de la pluie
Rene Clement - 1970
Optimum Home Entertainment Region 2 DVD

At one point in Rider on the Rain, Marlene Jobert tells Charles Bronson that he has a smile like a Cheshire cat. The description is apt as most of their relationship is of a cat toying with a little white mouse. Also, the film begins with a quote from Alice in Wonderland, with Jobert's character plunging down a rabbit hole of troubling past memories and a mystery that's over her head.

Bronson's smile is simultaneously friendly and threatening, insinuating himself on Jobert, first spying on her as a wedding guest at a church, dancing with her at the wedding party, and making mention of facts that should be unknown to anyone. This cat plays a series of games of catch and release with his presumed prey. Even when the mystery of how Bronson's character is revealed, what is never explained is why his real object of pursuit, the title character, showed up in the small seacoast town in the first place.

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Rene Clement and writer Sebastian Japrisot pay light tribute to John Huston and Alfred Hitchcock, with Bronson as the mysterious stranger, Dobbs, and another character named McGuffin. Marlene Jobert plays the woman, Mellie, short for Melancholy, who first spots the rider, a stern bald man clutching a small red bag. That the rider is never actually seen stepping of the bus that normally doesn't stop through the small town, but appears as the bus leaves adds to the mystery of his presence, as does his walking through the rain storm towards some unknown destination in the otherwise empty town. Ultimately, Clement and Japrisot are more interested in Dobbs and Mellie than they are in the person who inadvertently brought them together.

I usually don't talk about clothing in film, but one of the visual constants in Rider on the Rain is that Mellie is seen only wearing white, white mini-dresses and a white raincoat. The she is wearing white clothing, with lengths well above her knees, there is the simultaneous projection of innocence and sexuality. Even though Mellie is a married woman, the white dresses almost make her appear as a bride. In a way these conflicting images are fitting for someone who is both the possessor of certain knowledge and at the same time someone who puts herself in danger due to mistaken assumptions. There is a running gag involving the throwing of walnuts against glass windows that indicates if someone may be in love. While the relationship between Mellie and Dobbs remains chaste, the sexual tension is apparent from the moment that the two meet.

The Optimum DVD comes with both the original French language version and a somewhat shorter English language version. Even dubbed in French, Charles Bronson's presence is unmistakable. The film was made at a time between the end of the Sixties and beginning of the Seventies, when Bronson was a bigger star in Europe than in the U.S., where he was mostly relegated to supporting roles or television guest shots. There is one scene where Bronson demonstrates his physicality, getting into a fight with a bunch of gangsters, but mostly this is a more thoughtful person who can simply look intimidating and still get his way. According to IMDb, Bronson wanted to revisit the character of Dobbs over ten years later, although that project never came to fruition. Bronson had collaborated with writer Japrisot previously on the film, Farewell, Friend, against top billed Alain Delon. Rider on the Rain also features Bronson's wife, Jill Ireland, in a small role of Nicole, the owner of a dress store, Mellie's best friend, and a woman with some secrets of her own.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 15, 2011 08:43 AM