Pierre (Pierre Richard-Willm), a young lawyer, has enormous debts due to his mistress Florence (Marie Bell), and her whims of luxury life. Pierre has gone too far and put the family firm in...
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Pierre (Pierre Richard-Willm), a young lawyer, has enormous debts due to his mistress Florence (Marie Bell), and her whims of luxury life. Pierre has gone too far and put the family firm in jeopardy. They ask him to expatriate. To avoid scandal, Pierre joins the Foreign Legion. In Morocco, near the desert, Pierre goes with his comrades of the Legion to a bar-restaurant-brothel, owned by a shady character, Mr. Clement (Charles Vanel). Clement lives more or less with Ms.Blanche (Françoise Rosay) who is a fortune teller with cards, as a hobby. But Clement is also after his girls now and then. Pierre is still obsessed with Florence but he meets Irma (Marie Bell), one of Clement's girls, who is the double of Florence except for hair color. Irma has had an accident and has lost part of her memory at a certain point of her recent past, and Pierre slowly persuades himself she is Florence, but cannot remember it. Advised by Ms.Blanche, Irma finally accepts to act as if she was Florence because...Written by
A lot of movie-goers will agree that Alfred Hitchcock's finest work is his seminal 1958 masterpiece Vertigo. But 20 years earlier French director Jacques Feyder, fleeing from Hollywood when he failed to come to an agreement with MGM on new projects, returned to his home country and made Le Grand Jeu, the tale of a broken man falling in love with the doppelgänger of his gold-digging former lover. It's certainly an inferior work to Vertigo, but the themes of obsession and the growing psychological torment of its lead must have surely been an inspiration to the Master of Suspense.
Playboy Pierre (Pierre Richard-Willm) has it all - fast cars, the finest clothes and a beautiful girl, Florence (Marie Bell), who shares his lust for the finer things in life. Their extravagances almost bring his family's business to ruin, so Pierre is exiled to avoid further embarrassment, minus Florence who cannot turn her back on the world of luxury she has become so accustomed to. Distraught, Pierre joins the Foreign Legion in North Africa, where he lives content though the work is hard. On leave, he stays at a hotel/brothel ran by the sleazy and unsavoury Clement (Charles Vanel), and his no-nonsense wife Blanche (Francoise Rosay), who reads Tarot cards in her spare time. One night, Pierre spots a prostitute who is a dead ringer for Florence, and so begins his obsession.
Le Grand Jeu is slow, slightly over-long and often remarkably depressing. It's also a beautifully filmed example of French poetic realism, with the African setting providing a sweaty, claustrophobic atmosphere. There's a naturalism to the performances that was way ahead of what they doing in Hollywood at the time. Feyder also employs the effective tactic of casting Marie Bell in separate roles with one of her character's being dubbed over, causing an unsettling effect when combined with Bell's impressive performances as both socialite seductress and down-beaten night-club singer/party girl. It's a shame that the plot is laid out early on when Pierre has his fortune told as main plot points naturally become inevitabilities, but Le Grand Jeu is often immaculately crafted cinema.
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