Still stung by the treachery of his suicidal wife, Thérésa, onetime concert pianist Charlie Kohler hooks up with Lena, a waitress at the club where he now plays honky-tonk, only to become involved in the feud between his brothers, Richard and Chico, and b
Adapted from David Goodis's pulp thriller, Down There, François Truffaut's second feature was closer in spirit to Jean-Luc Godard's A Bout de Souffle than his own Les Quatre Cents Coups. Essentially a pastiche of the Hollywood B movie, it adopted a maverick attitude towards melodrama and romance that was reinforced by an irresistible jokiness that rendered it an offbeat delight.
Truffaut later claimed that he had intended `to make a film without a subject, to express all I wanted to say about glory, success, downfall, failure, women, and love by means of a detective story. It's a grab bag.' But this was as much an act of revenge as homage, as Truffaut set up American noir only to gun it down, for while he had learned lessons from its generic conventions and shaped them to his own ends, other French film-makers has assimilated them wholesale at the expense of both more individual and more cinematic modes of expression. Thus, Truffaut sought to subvert the imported staples and stereotypes by casting the unprepossessing Charles Aznavour in a role that would ordinarily have been played as a hero by a chiselled star. Similarly, he turned the villains into cartoonish palookas and consistently confounded the audience expectations generated by both the action and the soundtrack. From the moment he interrupted a chase sequence with an irrelevant aside about a bypasser's marriage, Truffaut strove to put into practice the theories of caméra stylo and les politiques des auteurs that he had been espousing since his days as a critic at Cahiers du Cinéma. Consequently, he dotted the picture with references to the Marx Brothers, Roberto Rossellini's Stromboli and Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder. He also drew on the techniques of silent cinema, with the superimposition of impresario Lars Schmeel's head between Charlie (then still known as Edouard Saroyan) and Thérésa as they lay in bed recalling the camera trickery in Georges Méliès's feéries, while the iris triptych evoked Abel Gance's Napoléon. However, the film's commercial disappointment inhibited Truffaut and he was never to be this exuberantly experimental again.
A superb combination of genre movie and Truffaut's special brand of perfectly observed, humanist detail.