Masters Of Cinema #57 - The Murderer Lives At 21 - Blu-ray Review

Pierre Fresnay in The Murderer Lives At 21

There's a sense of weighty historical context with Henri-Georges Clouzot's L'Assassin Habite Au 21 (The Murderer Lives At 21), which it's execution doesn't always seem to justify. Though clearly a film of some import - contextually or otherwise - it is fairly easy to imagine oneself transported to the land of daytime TV, watching the unfolding mystery of Murder She Wrote, or a 1970s Agatha Christie adaptation. That Clouzot's film's origins are rooted in a mystery novel by Stanislas-André Steeman is no great surprise.

Certainly, once detective Wens (Pierre Fresnay) enters the residence at 2l, rue Junot - with its collection of invariably odd, ageing or otherwise disabled inhabitants - we are well into Angela Lansbury territory, as murderous glints are glimpsed and suspects are established with expositional ease.

The earlier moments of Clouzot's film prove to be the more interesting. As the murderer - a faceless man (or woman) who leaves a calling card bearing the name Monsieur Durand on each victim - follows a lottery-winning drunk from a bar, we enter first person mode, stalking the target, whilst drawing our cane-sheathed sword. Remember, this is eighteen years before Peeping Tom and the effect is potent. The streets, which feel set-shot, also have a curiously honed appeal, creating a claustrophobic aura of war-time dread.

That The Murderer Lives At 21 was shot in 1942, during the Nazi occupation of France, gives its street-set scenes of threat a resonance. The history of the film shot in this period is much more complicated than any intangible artistic product though, as a vast section in the booklet, dedicated to understanding the accusations of collusion against Clouzot, attests.

Pierre Fresnay and Mila Malou in The Murderer Lives at 21

In a separate section of the booklet, Judith Mayne points to another interesting element of Clouzot's film, again focused during the pre-rue Junot scenes. Our heroine, Mila Malou (Suzy Delair), is introduced to us desperate to achieve newspaper fame, so that she might further her career. As Mayne goes on to point out, it is notable that Malou's eventual fame may be deserved, as she solves the mystery on her own terms, but at this early point, it is interesting to note modern-day parallels with celebrity culture and fame obsession.

Though a companion early scene, involving a depiction of the effect of the chain of command, has made it clear that this is a comedy, this element only finds itself brought to the fore when we arrive at 21. Dressed as a priest, Wens now cuts a comedic figure of disguise, Malou arriving shortly afterwards to snicker from the sidelines. The ragtag band of inhabitants-cum-suspects form a sinister crew, but Clouzot undercuts their malice with ridiculous petty arguing, starting with how long one character spends in the bath. That old chestnut. The relationship between the humour and the murder-mystery can be seen shortly afterwards, as said character once again spends rather longer in the bath than intended.

The mixture works well until the down-trodden conclusion, which shoots for 'dirty', at least in the builder's yard finale, but achieves only hi-camp. That that actually fits with certain other parts of the film shows what an odd mixture The Murderer Lives At 21 can be, although its curious blend is never less than entertaining. Contextually or otherwise.





Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.

The Murderer Lives At 21 is released in the UK on Monday 20th May 2013

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