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The Forgotten: Home Alone

La Baby Sitter

René Clemént's La baby sitter (1975) is a damned good twisty thriller, so I don't know why it has a lousy reputation. Its director belonged to that tricky post-war, pre-nouvelle vague generation which included Clouzot, Bresson, Becker and Melville: lots of talent, but no unity of theme, style or purpose. Consequently, like all the others except Bresson, he's celebrated for a few stand-out movies impossible to ignore, while the rest are swept under the rug.

Maria Schneider plays a French sculptor in Rome who works evenings as a babysitter. Unbeknownst to her, actress friend Sydne Rome is involving her in a kidnapping scam masterminded by a lawyer, a stuntman, and two more actors (actors are evil in this film!). Since the toughest part of any kidnap is the handover, they've hatched the plan of using an innocent patsy to collect the loot and handover the prize, a millionaire's little son, Boots Franklin (I know: Boots Franklin??). Schneider is engaged by telephone to babysit, appears at a lonely villa, and finds her charge sound asleep. Only when he wakes up the next day and accuses her of drugging him does she realize something's seriously awry. Now she has to win his trust so they can defend themselves against the kidnappers outside...

La Baby Sitter

Sure, the film has plenty wrong with it. It's one of those improbable Euro-puddings in which everyone you meet in Rome is from somewhere else: apart from Schneider and her kidnapee, there's the millionaire, an American played by an Austrian, and kidnap gang Sydne Rome, Robert Vaughn, Nadja Tiller and Vic Morrow. In addition, Clemént's visual style, while mainly lean and attractive, includes a couple of rather lame nods towards hipness, including a solarized title sequence. Francis (A Man and a Woman) Lai's score nicely straddles the gulf between the classical filmmaking and the modern cool, although a scene where dramatic suspense music accompanies Robert Vaughn's preparation of fried eggs does seem a tad strange.

La Baby Sitter

What holds it together is Schneider, intensely vulnerable and sympathetic. This is the story of an innocent girl surrounded by fiendish manipulators, and one can't help feel her previous experience with Bertolucci and Brando must have thoroughly prepared her for it. A scene where Sydne Rome walks off a film set after a surprise nude scene is sprung on her oddly prefigures something that Schneider would do for real later on Caligula (1979), a smart decision if ever there was one.

Admittedly, René Clemént had been on something of a downward spiral since his triumphs with Plein soleil (Purple Noon) and Forbidden Games; a series of international co-productions seemed to dilute his talents. But this film has satisfying twists and reversals in which the characters never behave in implausibly stupid ways, and sometimes surprise us in realistic ones. Plus there's a nail-biter involving a small dog, deployed as messenger with a note tied to its collar. Clemént never pursued a thriller career as assiduously as Clouzot or Becker, but he certainly knew how to milk the tension from a good set-piece.

La Baby Sitter

***

The Forgotten is a regular Thursday column by David Cairns, author of Shadowplay.

Robert Vaughn and Vic Morrow? I did I miss this? How does this compare with “Rider on the Rain”?
Better! Lots better! But that’s just my opinion, maybe you’re a Rider on the Rain fan. I was quite startled by how good it was. Then I watched Les Felins and OK, that was better. Now I’m going to watch some 40s Clement and that’ll probably be better still…
I was also surprised by this one sine I had never heard of it before I picked up a cheap copy of it on dvd somewhere. The beginning of the film is odd, in a disconcerting, and garish or tacky sort of way leading me to think this was going to head down the giallo path, but once it became a little more sedate, I was quite taken with the film. I’m even happier with the purchase now since it’s one of the rare times I’ve seen a film being discussed in The Forgotten collection. I kind of wondered about the kid mistaking Schneider for Rome since the wig doesn’t really make that seem too plausible, but then again maybe little Boots wasn’t paying attention to their faces. If I had babysitters like that when I was that age, I probably wouldn’t have either. I didn’t really think of Schneider’s character as seeming too vulnerable, I mean for the situation, as she was refreshingly sure of herself, resourceful, and just a touch aggressive as well. She came across as a little laid back to begin with and the way the situation was set up, she wasn’t in immediate danger for much of the film, so her kind of laid back reserve acted to build my sympathies for her as opposed to a more frantic or panicked approach which could be more distancing. It did make the last section of the movie more intense though as that sympathy she had gained made the kitchen scene more intense as it didn’t feel like it should go that way. One of the things I liked best about the film was that it did tend to go further with developments than I expected. I thought the scene with the dog would end in the yard, for example, or when the would be boyfriend was checking out the house. The whole movie was just odd enough in every aspect that it kept me from becoming too sure of what would happen and where each character would go. it isn’t a really great film, but it is a fairly involving and effective one.
I’ll seek this out. I was looking for a good bridge film for the last few poliziotteschi I’ve been watching. The last one was Kidnap with Henry Silva. Thanks for sharing this.
As I recall, in and around the shooting of this film Maria Schneider was hauled off to the laughing academy for a brief stay when she tired to get a girlfriend of hers released from it. Apparently the state had deemed all lesbians to be crazy. While Clement drifted into critical unfashionability his commercial profile grew. Ths was a big hit in europe, and “Ride on the Rain” was a big hit everywhere.
Clement doesn’t seem too concerned with basic plausibility, which should make him interesting to the critical community… he’s not a by-the-numbers thriller guy at all. I think his interest in the psychology of evil is genuine (as in Plein Soleil) and he uses genre conventions shamelessly to get at it. Hence the weird wig-work here. I guess when I was a kid all adults looked somewhat alike. So did most kids. So I can understand two babysitters getting cofused in the kids’ mind, but the movie sure doesn’t seem concerned about the possible difficulties here.

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