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April 11, 2023

Arsene Lupin Collection

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The Adventures of Arsene Lupin/Les Adventures d'Arsene Lupin
Jacques Becker - 1957

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Signed, Arsene Lupin/Signe Arsene Lupin
Yves Robert - 1959

Arsene Lupin vs. Arsene Lupin/Arsene Lupin contre Arsene Lupin
Edouard Molinaro - 1962
Kino Classics BD Region A Two-disc set

Created in 1905 by author Maurice Leblanc, the gentleman thief and master of disguise Arsene Lupin has had an enduring cinematic legacy since the silent era. French by birth, the novels have inspired films from several countries including the U.S. and Japan, and multiple actors in the title role. The collection from Kino Classics represents the three films produced by the French studio Gaumont, with two actors as Lupin, and three directors making there own variations inspired by the novels.

The Adventures of Arsene Lupin was the first French film version in twenty years. While Jacques Becker is mostly known for his art house classics Casque d'Or and Touchez pas au Grisbi, what is overlooked is that he needed to make some more commercially viable films for career survival. Robert Lamoureax, who bears some resemblance to Golden Age Hollywood star Warren William, appears as Lupin. Taking place in 1912, he waltzes into high society, capturing the eye of Liselot (Lilo) Pulver, and waltzing out with two small, but extremely valuable paintings. As is his tradition, Lupin leaves a calling card helpfully informing his hosts that one of their prized paintings is actually a fake. Lupin is later challenged by Kaiser Wilhelm II to discover the hiding place of a valuable jewel.

The film was shot in lush Technicolor, very nicely rendered in this blu-ray. Becker delights in showing the mechanics of how the various thefts were accomplished. The story takes place in a Paris that seems to exist out of time, clinging onto what is left of the late 19th Century. It is the women who can identify Lupin past his fake beards and costume changes, yet they prefer to think they are the one keeping a secret. Even if The Adventures of Arsene Lupin is a lesser entry in Jacques Becker's filmography, it still welcome as providing additional representation of his work in his final decade.

While the Lupin films all have streaks of humor, the tone gets progressively lighter in the films that follow. Signed, Arsene Lupin is an early film by Yves Robert, best known for his comedies like The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe and his later Marcel Pagnol duology. Lupin is introduced as a World War I veteran recovering in a hospital from a leg wound. Robert Lamoureaux repeats his role as Lupin, with Robert appearing as La Ballu, a thief who enlists Lupin to join him in the theft of a painting. The painting is part of a triptych that leads to hidden treasure. Lupin is doggedly followed by the young reporter known as Veritas, who manages to never be believed even when he can identify Lupin. Shot in black and white, Signed, Arsene Lupin has a couple of moments that suggest some cost cutting measures even with the extensive location hopping between France and Italy. Lupin's sleight of hand is less important than resolving the mystery of the paintings.

The Japanese animated character Lupin III has a life of its own, exceeding the popularity of the original character. Arsene Lupin vs. Arsene Lupin might be the closest to Lupin II, if not by name. Jean-Claude Brialy and Jean-Pierre Cassel play the two sons of the deceased Lupin. Originally unaware of each other's existence, the two join forces to protect the family of exiled aristocrats. Edouard Molinaro employs some of the visual style used in his earlier films noir. A briefly seen poster for the silent serial, Le Tresor de Keriolet (1920) helps place the time setting with Molinaro referring to silent era filmmaking with the use of intertitles, cranked up chases, and a few funny sound effects. 20 year old Francoise Dorleac is seen too briefly as Cassel's reporter girlfriend. For Molinaro, what is of interest is how the brothers try to outwit each other as well as everyone else with their different disguises. The blu-ray was sourced from a very well preserved print, in wide screen black and white.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 11, 2023 06:07 AM