VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the August 30, 2022 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.
Based on the novel The Damned Innocents by Richard Neely, this film was directed and written by Claude Chabrol, a member of the French New Wave (nouvelle vague) group of filmmakers. Chabrol claimed that he was “seized by the demon of cinema,” which led to him writing about film and championing directors like Alfred Hitchcock, who this film owes a debt to.
Chabrol was a massive fan of Hitchcock, even writing a book on the director with Eric Rohmer. On the set of To Catch a Thief, Chabrol and François Truffaut were so starstruck that they walked right into a water tank. Hitchcock would laugh at that for years, even saying years later that the dup were “ice cubes in a glass of whiskey.”
Chabrol’s first movie was the Hitchcock-influenced Le Beau Serge and throughout his career, he would return to the styles of the director and stories of the rich and powerful dealing with murder and scandal.
Louis Wormser (Rod Steiger) has a young wife — Julie (Romy Schneider) — a drinking problem, a bad heart and a case of impotence. He doesn’t even sleep in bed with his wife anymore, so it’s no wonder that she’s started having sex with a writer named Jeff Marle (Paolo Giusti). And even less of a narrative jump that they decide to kill Louis. She hits him with a heavy object, Jeff rolls him into the water and she decides to lay low. But then Jeff disappears with all the money, leaving Julie without a man, without cash and under the watchful gaze of the police.
So just imagine how she feels when Louis reappears, claiming to be cleaned up and in great health. Even stranger, he says that he got a confession out of Jeff and killed him. Now, he wants to be a good husband and they make love just in time for Jeff to come back for her.
Man, can one woman find worse men? Yes, when it’s in a Hitchcockian film like this. I almost claimed it’s a giallo, but the line between Hitchcock, krimi and giallo is so thin, right? Maybe neo noir is the right category? Do we need labels?
This was released in the U.S by New Line, which caused Vincent Canby of The New York Times to say, “I have no idea how much the English dubbing and editing have damaged the original, but the Dirty Hands that opened yesterday at the Forum and other theaters is a junk movie.”