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Innocents With Dirty Hands
cast: Romy Schneider, Rod Steiger, Francois Maistre, Paolo Giusti, and Francois Perrot

director: Claude Chabrol

121 minutes (15) 1975
widescreen ratio 16:9
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
A television drama today fills a two-hour slot and though rarely clever they stump up on plotting to encourage the viewer to return following an advertising break. Claude Chabrol's Innocents With Dirty Hands (aka: Les innocents aux mains sales) runs two hours without breaks. Had it breathers, the viewer may forget to return from that quick pee or the hob and kettle. The pace is unhurried. Slow-burn still has its place but it needs the camerawork, soundtrack and command performances to hold the viewer's attention. Innocents Wth Dirty Hands opens too disinterestedly, with flat camerawork and a first half-hour beholden to three mediocre, ambling characters. Louis Wormser is the money-buckets older husband (played by Rod Steiger) with a somnambulistic, unimaginative wife Julie (Romy Schneider) 18 years his junior. They live in St Tropez in a grand house. Next door is a lazy young writer and tiresome dreamer, Jeff Marle (Paolo Giusti), who is lodging with old Madame Chauvinet. Louis has a heart condition which excuses him from carnal fulfilment and Julie, dissatisfied with this situation, has reached the point at which she will not now even return him the smallest of tendernesses.

The handsome tenant neighbour turns her head and they begin an affair, which allows for the imagining of a not too distant cardiac arrest for the old soat. Two weeks later and the imagining has evolved into plotting. Louis is to be cudgelled and the act will be set up as a fatal bump on the head. Before she can return to the body, Jeff has already collected it and left a note informing her of his actions. He has transferred the corpse to the wife's new Datsun, thereupon to dispose of the body before returning with the 'borrowed' car three days later. They feign a missing person case and the police are called in. Commissaries Villon (Pierre Santini) and Lamy (Francois Maistre) are no fools, but a Columbo and Morse together.

Villon appears particularly ecumenical and able to read and reinterpret the circumstances just as we witness several about turns in the plot. The Datsun is found destroyed having left a cliff road, and it is Louis who later returns with the upper hand. In light of her betrayal, the lover now joining the faces on the milk cartons, he intends to give her the wealth she wanted, but only having first prostituted herself to him. His heart condition has been a lie to hide his impotency. The deadly game reawakens his libido. His missing status must also be kept. Again, the commissaries sense the truth, but a further twist is to come, which sidesteps the police and viewer. It is a novel move but it comes too late and affects characters we continue to have little liking or affinity to.

Innocents With Dirty Hands could have been improved with a tightening of the plot with the removal of thirty minutes. Schneider is a cool customer but moves like an automaton and possesses one expression. Paolo Gusti as the lover is similarly bland. Steiger is good but his growly voice is lost in the dubbing and the replacement vocal artiste has none of the Hollywood original's snarly insistency. Jean Rochefort does his usual bit of scene stealing as Julie's legal representative and Santini is solid as Villon.

The soundtrack is torturous, a strained trumpet insinuating... what exactly.... constipation woes? The soundtrack is flimsy; the camerawork listless, the whole film possesses an air of stagnancy. This is a pity as Julie's exploitation by Louis takes an interesting turn as she undergoes a change in her attitude towards her husband. His slight morphing from bad husband to outright cad has more allure in it. The film reaches a stage where it would appear that nobody remains dead, a momentarily magnificent move, but the next step is inevitable ironic tragedy. The story needed life injected into it. Richard Neely's original source novel could have done with Pedro Almodóvar's hand to give it that required colour and verve.

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