Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Films of Robert Hossein

The underrated, almost forgotten French director Robert Hossein (better known for acting in the Angelique films) made more than a dozen movies; three or four are quite exceptional.

The truly beautiful Marina Vlady...

...appeared in his first feature, The Wicked Go To Hell (Les Salauds Vonten Enfer, B&W, '56), an intense drama about two prison fugitives who take harbor in the home of an artist. After killing him, they get their comeuppance at the hands of the artist's lover (Vlady).

It's a wonderful, intense, twisty film.

So taken was Hossein with Vlady, he married her, although the marriage only lasted a few years.

One-of-a-kind French horror/erotic director Jean Rollin is a great admirer of Hossein also.

Although confined (mostly) to one location, Double Agents (Le Nuits Des Espions, '59) is a tense, fascinating thriller.

Set during WWII, two agents (Valady and Hossein) meet in a shack, and spend most of the movie feeling each other out and up (literally and figuratively). Suspicion fuels their rendezvous, and leads to an unexpected revelation. The real life couple have great chemistry on-screen, and the cinematography by Jacques Robin is very moody and thick with shadows.

I don't know why this occurred to me, but Roger Watkin's X-rated Midnight Heat ('83) shares tonal similarities with this film. It's about a killer (Jamie Gillis) holed up in a Times Square fleapit hotel. He encounters many people that night, but he must try to identify an assassin amongst them.

The level of paranoia is intoxicating, as it is in Hossein's Double Agents.




Vlady was out of the brilliantly titled Cemetery Without Crosses (Une Cord, Un Colt, '69), but the ravishing Michele Mercier was in. Although the producers initially wanted Bardot, Mercier was cast, and was catapulted to fame.

Hossein once again directs (beautifully) and toplines as a reluctant gun-for-hire enlisted by Mercier. There is very little dialog, but an abundance of emotion and tension.

The plot is not original, but the filmmaking is immaculate, and there is a solidity to its intentions that elevates it to Sergio Leone territory. It's interesting to note that Leone himself directed one scene.

Both Hossein and Mercier are incredible...

... and the weathered, time-beaten settings are so authentic they bleed.

Surely Enzo Castellari's masterpiece Keoma was influenced by this masterpiece.

Which was co-written by Dario Argento (although this is disputed by Hossein on the Anolis DVD).

3 comments:

  1. Seems Anolis is releasing some fantastic stuff. This is the first I'm hearing of them other than your Hunchback post.

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  2. Cool posters. Love the photos of the beautiful women. I don't think I've really ever seen any of his work.

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  3. d -- Anolis is becoming a reckonable force.

    ***

    Keith -- these women are so beautiful and strong on screen. Hossein's work is mostly ignored, which is a shame.

    French director/comedian Pierre Etaix suffers the same fate.

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