At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

THAT MAN FROM RIO (E1) 1964 & UP TO HIS EARS (LES TRIBULATIONS D’UN CHINOIS EN CHINE) (E1) 1965

By • Jun 13th, 2015 •

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Apparently Spielberg saw THAT MAN FROM RIO nine times. I wouldn’t doubt it. I saw it close to that many times myself. And one can see remnants of its influence on RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARC. They’re both dated, but they’re both still overflowing with energy and fun, even if time has kicked a few feathers out of their pillows.

Jean-Paul Belmondo is Pvt. Adrien Dufourquet, a soldier on a week’s leave. All he wants to do is spend the time with his ditzy girlfriend, Agnes Villermosa (Francois Dorleac). But she gets kidnapped in front of him, and he spends the next ninety minutes flailing all over the hemisphere trying to rescue her. Belmondo isn’t graceful. He’s racing, nearly out of control, in hot pursuit of the bad guys. He climbs out of a hotel window and inches along the narrow ledge, and it feels absolutely real. He hops on a motorcycle and pursues the kidnappers, cigar in mouth. On and on it goes. He’s terrific, but who does he remind me of? Not Chaplin – too gangly. Not Keaton – too emotional. None of the classic silent film actors in fact. It took me a while, but then it came to me: Jerry Lewis! Ah, those French and their fascinating adoration for Jerry’s shenanigans.

I spent a little time chatting with director de Broca many years ago, and he insisted that what really interested him in all his films, THAT MAN FROM RIO included, was love. I can see it clearly in his earlier hits – THE LOVE GAME, THE FIVE DAY LOVER, etc. I have a little more difficulty seeing it in a slapstick romp like RIO, but those few scenes where Belmondo and Dorleac finally connect for a short time are intimate and precious, and supported by Georges (CONTEMPT, THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN) Delerue’s haunting music.

Speaking of Delerue, there’s a supplemental on this double-disc release that’s a tad mind-boggling. The Cohen Collection and E1 have turned up some remarkable footage of de Broca sitting with Delerue and discussing their long-running creative partnership – “Leger et grave: la collaboration Georges Delerue – Philippe de Broca”, compiled by Jerome Wybon, running 12 minutes. He then tells the composer that he wants him for his next film, briefly explains what it’s about, and Delerue, rising to the challenge, improvises a melody on the piano before our eyes. I don’t know if there’s ever been a moment like that captured on film before or since. Kino, on their BluRay release of LOVE IN THE CITY, has a fat, vitally important supplemental on composer Mario Nascimbene, whose impact on filmusic history is massive (THE VIKINGS, BARABBAS, SOLOMON AND SHEBA, ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. – just to name a few American productions), and yet there is no footage of the composer included, nor any selections of his work … just an historian rhapsodizing about the maestro’s talent. The Delerue/de Broca supplemental is as important as the film itself.

And then we get another high-energy chase across the continents, UP TO HIS EARS, made by de Broca the following year. In this one, Belmondo’s character is rich and suicidal, but what de Broca does with that simple concept is less cleverly explored than one might want. It’s a choice item to partner with RIO, however.

Color in both films vacillates between saturated and slightly washed out. In RIO it actually helps give the story a more documentary feel, adding to the loose, improvisational style. Watch carefully and you can see editor Javet saving the film by making the cuts he does – just when something’s about to go wrong or run out of steam within the next several frames. My sense is that there was nowhere near the kind of location control on these films that there are in Hollywood productions. A lot of it feels like guerilla filmmaking – even possibly grabbing shots while they could, with no opportunity for retakes.

Jean Servais (star of RIFIFI) is a nattily-dressed museum employee, whose role mutates as the film progresses. It’s good to see him, and he’s certainly more than adequate in the part, though not the dissipated noir icon that he was in the Jules Dassin film.

I hear Belmondo & Ursula Andress had a heated romance going during the UP TO HIS EARS shoot. That might have been the best thing about that film, though it has its undeniable pleasures as it races helter skelter across the landscape, seemingly trying to outdo RIO, in which endeavor it fails, falling prey to its own excesses (like, for instance, Peter Jackson’s KING KONG, where several Tyranosauri do not make a better action scene).

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