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08.20.08

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Phaedra

Joy House

One disc; Koch-Lorber; $24.98

By Richard von Busack


This rococo 1964 thriller shows what the French New Wave was up against: a widescreen black-and-white movie that, aside from cinematographer Henri Decaë's silvery light, might as well have been directed by Robert Aldrich trying to shock the living daylights out of you. It's René Clément's chic adaptation of a pulp novel by Day Keene (whose other big credit is penning the source novel for Elvis' The Trouble With Girls). Most of it takes place in a Villefranche-sur-Mer villa, as bursting with bric-a-brac as a Goodwill. The glacial yet acrobatic Alain Delon plays Marc, a Parisian drifter who slept with the wrong married woman back in New York. Some Yankee plug-uglies are looking for him, and he hides out in a church rescue mission in the Riviera. There he's hired as a chauffeur by a rich and devious widow (Lola Albright), who is using her poor-relations cousin (Jane Fonda) as live-in maid and cook. Caroming between the two ladies—both clearly have hidden agendas—the fugitive discovers that there's another man on the premises, artfully hidden from the police. The alternate title, Les Félins, suggests how Marc is batted around as a play-toy between the cougar and the sex kitten; if we don't get the picture, there's plenty of symbolic use of a pet cat, which might have influenced some of the sinister kitty-wielding in Blofeld's scenes in the Bond movies. The film is as swank as can be, with a Plexiglas-lidded Rolls-Royce as seduction chamber. Though the action is mostly devoid of suspense, Fonda looks scrumptious, and composer Lalo Schifrin goes absolutely nutzoid on the soundtrack. Be sure to play the French subtitled version because the English version is badly dubbed.


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