« We Need to do Something | Main | Gunfight at Dry River »

September 07, 2021

Blue Panther

blue panther.png

Marie-Chantal contre Dr. Kha
Claude Chabrol - 1965
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

Blue Panther appeared in the middle period from 1964 through 1968 when Claude Chabrol was primarily making deliberately commercial films primarily for a French audience. With the exception of the English language The Champagne Murders, these films did not get released in the U.S. I do not think that Blue Panther would have been exportable in any event. The title character was inspired by Jacques Chazot's books, published in the 1950s. The literary Marie-Chantal is described as a snob who is also naive. From what little has been made available in English, she would seem somewhat similar to the kind of ditzy heiresses that appeared in 1930s screwball comedies, the daughters of the very wealthy totally lost outside their cocoon of extreme privilege. Chabrol's Marie-Chantal only shares the name and the penchant for dressing fashionably.

Anyone unfamiliar with Claude Chabrol's films should definitely not start here. Even those who have followed Chabrol's career from his roots as a member of France's Nouvelle Vague through his last years of well-crafted mysteries may be baffled. Blue Panther has been described as a spy spoof. In terms of genre filmmaking, perhaps for Chabrol and his co-writers, that was besides the point. The film is more lightly amusing than funny, nor strong on visceral action. The visual stylization is mostly seen in the use of mirrors and in the depiction of murder. Things and people are never what they initially appear to be. There are exploding cigarettes, a dart gun disguised as a ski pole, the globe-hopping from Switzerland to Morocco, and the fight among spies to get hold of the blue panther, a small ornamental brooch of a blue panther's head with two rubies as eyes. Chabrol essentially undermines audience expectations of the film either as genre exercise or as satire. The original French title contains a linguistic play on Dr. No with "kha" being a loosely used Thai word signifying agreement.

There is some pleasure in the film's casting for those who have had more than casual interest in French films from the 1960s extending beyond the Nouvelle Vague canon. Marie Laforet, as Marie-Chantal is probably still best known for her debut performance in Purple Noon. More familiar are the men in supporting roles - Serge Reggiani, Roger Hanin and Chabrol favorite, Charles Denner. Chabrol appears briefly as a bartender in what first appears to be an awkwardly filmed scene involving an intrusively placed plant. Brightening the proceeding is the the future Stephane Audran as a Russian spy whose scenes with Laforet are the most entertaining. As the chief villain, Akim Tamiroff seemed more menacing as Uncle Joe Grandi in Touch of Evil than here as the duplicitous Dr. Kha. The inclusion of Tamiroff may well have appealed to Chabrol simply because of the actor's several collaborations with Orson Welles.

The commentary track is by the trio of Howard Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson. What is helpful is in their pointing out how much of the verbal humor - puns, double and triple entendres, and other wordplay - is lost in the straightforward English subtitles. The film is also placed within the context of Chabrol's career at the time, as well as spy films of the time, when the genre was at its most popular. Discussion of how the conventions of the the spy film were played, as well as how the films were received by different audiences, goes into a too long detour about Joseph Losey and Modesty Blaise. The blu-ray is sourced from a 4K restoration that looks perfect.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 7, 2021 06:39 AM