Thought #1: contact sports have given us an unusual number of fine actors. George C. Scott's nose testified to his travails in the ring, as did John Huston's. France offers Michel Simon, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Italian emigre Lino Ventura. Ventura, a former boxer and wrestler, is perhaps the least celebrated of this triumvirate, but he is beyond great. Initially typed as toughs, understandably given his squat frame and flattened menhir of a nose, he demonstrated such conviction that he could be cast as an art dealer in Montparnasse 19 and as an intellectual freedom fighter in Melville's Army of Shadows. His combination of muscle and brains makes him a perfect choice to play an engineer in—but wait...
Thought #2: It's remarkable how many truly horrible character Alain Delon has played. Impressive that he'd do that—either he's unusually interested in villainy, or directors just see him that way, or he genuinely doesn't realize what a gallery of shits he's created. Maybe those dazzling looks need to be balanced by some equally amazing moral turpitude within, as with Dorian Gray (a role he really ought to have played at some point). But it's nice to see him play a nice guy for a change, something he does just as persuasively in—but wait...
Thought #3: the French love their two-guys-and-a-girl scenarios. If you avoid the macho competitive baloney, there's a charming dynamic which can evolve, with each of the guys going all out to be the most appealing person he can be. Still competitive, I guess, but in a nice way. To anchor such a triangle, you need a leading lady with sufficient appeal to make sense of the attraction, a certain gentleness as well as allure. Someone like Joanna Shimkus, maybe.
OK, now. I've held off talking openly about Les Aventuriers [The Last Adventure] (1967) because it's a little hard to pin down its pleasures. Finding the characters likable is critical, but that's a subjective reaction and you won't gain much from my opinion if you don't share it. The actors' and filmmakers' intention that we should like them is admirable, but in fact unprovable. I fall back on details—
Color schemes which seem lightly influenced by Godard, such as the way a red shirt, a red flag, a red biplane and a red truck ping out at you in unison, or the way the yellow of the titles is picked up by some shreds of a poster clinging to a fence. The blue of the Congo skies.
Shimkus (who is Mrs Sidney Poitier) opening her exhibition of scrap metal kinetic art under a motorway flyover while wearing a metallic Paco Rabanne dress and great metal earrings that turn her into a hanging mobile.
Spectacular aerial stunts that actually make you gasp/wince.
A plot that's always going somewhere new, and we don't quite know where. The music of Francois de Roubaix, which promises sunshine and easy-going adventure, which, like the upbeat title (adventure!), is not the whole story.
The merest smudge of romance.
Sometimes, in winter, you just need something summery to unroll before your eyes. Suggestions for future screenings are welcome.
Oh yes, the director! Robert Enrico made a celebrated film of Ambrose Bierce's An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, entitled La rivière du hibou, part of a trilogy of Bierce adaptations. From what I've now seen of his work, he has perhaps a tendency to overlength, getting the most out of every scene rather than ever allowing anything to be underplayed or slipped past the viewer. But he's controlled without seeming overdetermined, he has a fine eye for scenery, men, women and action, and an ear for unusual sounds: frogs belching inspires anxiety in his ghost story, La redevance du fantôme (1965), and lapping waves spell tragedy here—both sounds filtered through some kind of crude electronic enhancement, like Sergio Leone gunshots.
Two guys and a girl try to make a fortune via aerial stunts, an experimental engine, kinetic art, a gambling system, and an expedition to retrieve sunken treasure off the Congo coast. And I can't promise you'll like it. But do you like adventure?
The Forgotten is a regular Thursday column by David Cairns, author of Shadowplay.