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  Poison Ivy Handle with extreme Caution
Year: 1953
Director: Bernard Borderie
Stars: Eddie Constantine, Dominique Wilms, Howard Vernon, Dario Moreno, Maurice Ronet, Nicolas Vogel, Philippe Hersent, Jess Hahn, Gaston Modot, Monique Aïssata, Jack Ary, Paul Azaïs
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Casablanca, where there is no sign of Rick's bar but skulduggery afoot. Two million dollars worth of gold is missing. So the American government dispatch wisecracking FBI agent Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) to investigate. Between lounging at the casbah, flirting with lovely ladies, Agent Caution unearths a gold-smuggling ring run by local creep Rudy Saltierra (Howard Vernon). To infiltrate the gang Caution poses as naive tourist Perry Charles Rice from Dallas, Texas. However his efforts are alternately hindered and aided by Saltierra's devastating girlfriend Carlotta de la Rue (Dominique Wilms), nicknamed 'La môme vert de gris' or 'Poison Ivy', who seems to harbour her own mysterious agenda.

Written as a French-speaking American, created by British pulp author Peter Cheyney and beloved in France as a colourful precursor to James Bond: Lemmy Caution had his inaugural screen outing in La môme vert de gris (Poison Ivy). Although obviously indebted to classic Hollywood detective thrillers and film noir, the Lemmy Caution movies evoke their own slightly otherworldly ambiance. Grounded less in 'reality' than the motifs of American hard-boiled crime fiction cinema. In particular those shadowy worlds inhabited by Hollywood's archetypal romantic antihero: Humphrey Bogart, whose essence the American-born Eddie Constantine distilled for a new generation of European cinephiles. Constantine played Lemmy over the course of twelve films with such choice titles as Dames Get Along (1954) and Your Turn, Darling (1963). His screen persona, combining genuine toughness with tongue-in-cheek parody, captivated everyone from the French New Wave and German enfant terrible Rainer Werner Fassbinder to schlockmeister Jess Franco, each of whom he would work with over a long career. Most notably reviving Lemmy Caution for one more face-off with bug-eyed Howard Vernon in Jean-Luc Godard's excellent postmodern science fiction opus Alphaville (1965). Decades later Constantine brought Lemmy back one last time for Godard's typically abstract Germany Year 90 Nine Zero (1991).

As well as evoking cinema heroes of the past the Lemmy Caution films also anticipated trends of the future, establishing conventions later taken up by the James Bond franchise. The sharp-dressed, quick-witted hero trading blows with madmen and megalomaniacs and tangling with dangerously alluring women was already a well-worn pulp convention but given extra polish here. Rugged but not conventionally handsome, Constantine nonetheless cuts a charismatic figure as Lemmy. He is more affable than Bond, exuding an almost boyish charm while literally gasping at the sight of various pretty girls including stunning nightclub chanteuse-cum-femme fatale Carlotta, an evocative figure in her own right. As with James Bond the plot is pure pulp hokum writ large with a touch of class. Plus no small amount of Gallic cool. Poison Ivy marked the directorial debut of Bernard Borderie, the sort of competent craftsman despised by the New Wave but who nonetheless provided quality entertainment for an enthusiastic European audience. Outside of thrillers he came to specialize in lavish costume romps including the equally popular Angélique (1964) series. Borderie keeps things racing along nicely through charming incidentals, punch-ups that (much like the action choreography in early Bond films) must have seemed quite brutal at the time, and a nice line in unexpected twists.

Filmed on location in Morocco, where hundreds of wandering extras can't help staring into camera, Poison Ivy might seem quaint to modern eyes. Yet viewed with an appreciation for vintage pulp fun it gives some sense of how Ian Fleming's work might have looked if adapted on a more modest scale, a decade prior. Lemmy Caution would return in This Man Is Dangerous (1953).

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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