Dir.: Willy Rozier; Cast: Jacques Dumesnil, Marie Dea, Aime Clariond, Rene Blancard; France 1949, 88′.
Willy Rozier (1901 – 1983) was know for his exotic taste, and 56 Rue de Pigalle does not disappoint: a brazen mixture of film noir and melodrama, the plot swerves wildly between the two genres, the protagonists having to change track often.
Nautical engineer Jean Vigneron (Dumesnil) is also a fanatic water sportsman, competing in races with his yacht. Whilst having a collision with another boat, captained by Ines de Montalban (Dea), he falls in love with the married woman. Jean tries to meet her at social occasions, and makes friends with her husband Ricardo de Montalban (Clariond), who is much older than his wife. Ricardo declares his everlasting friendship with Jean in a nightclub, not knowing that Jean is lusting after his wife.
After the yachtsman finally seduces Ines, Jean’s butler Lucien Bonnet (Blanchard) blackmails him with letters from his mistress. Jean is willing to pay, and puts his yacht on the market. Ricardo, always the gentleman, but not very intuitive, lends Jean 1.1. Million Franc, but after Jean pays off Bonnet, the rogue turns round and murders his partner in crime, pocketing the money. Obviously, Jean is a suspect, and since he does not divulge Madame de Montalban’s involvement, he has to stand trial. By now, Ricardo has finally learned the truth (he wanted to shoot Ines during a hunt, but was disturbed), and hopes that Jean is found guilty and beheaded. But Ines finds the copies of the incriminating letters in his jacket, and Jean is quitted. But Ricardo swears revenge, and the lovers have to flee to a French colony in Africa, where they await Ricardo’s arrival, fearful of his revenge.
Shot in atmospheric black and white by renowned veteran Fred Langenfeld (Topaze, Le Coeur sur le main), the narrative is full of twists, but these swings and roundabouts are often too clumsy. Rozier did not only introduce Brigitte Bardot in Manina (1952) to a wider audience, but did the same for the beautiful Françoise Arnoul in L’Epave (1949), which was distributed in Britain as Sin and Desire. Finally, after the release of 56 Rue Pigalle in France, the critic François Chalais was very harsh on the film, and Rozier challenged him to a duel. They fought with swords, and Rozier got satisfaction, when he cut Chalais. An epitaph, somehow in line with the wild story of the feature. AS
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