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  This Man is Dangerous Lemmy go!
Year: 1953
Director: Jean Sacha
Stars: Eddie Constantine, Colette Deréal, Grégoire Aslan, Claude Borelli, Véra Norman, Jacqueline Pierreux, Roland Bailly, Guy Decomble, Luc Andrieux, Henry Djanik, Émile Genevois
Genre: Comedy, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: After breaking out of a prison in Oklahoma undercover Interpol agent Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) travels to the French Riviera. There he makes contact with Miranda Van Zelden (Claude Borelli), a young American heiress, and likely target of a gang of kidnappers. Chief among them Siegella (Grégoire Aslan): a notorious crime boss wanted by Interpol. Successfully worming his way into Siegella's gang, who include foxy femme fatale Constance (Colette Deréal), Lemmy stands poised to subvert their kidnap attempt on Miranda and land the necessary evidence to put the mobster away. However he ends up striking a bargain with another gang led by the vengeful Dora (Jacqueline Pierreux) to set Siegella up for an ambush and deliver Miranda into their hands. On top of that both Siegella and Constance prove far wilier than Lemmy anticipated.

Not to be confused with the like-named British thriller This Man is Dangerous (1941) starring James Mason, Cet homme est dangereux is the second film in the Lemmy Caution series based on the pulp novels British writer Peter Cheyney. American-born star Eddie Constantine returns as the wisecracking, hard-drinking, womanizing Interpol agent who captivated French post-war film fans. Unlike the actors inhabiting his closest equivalent James Bond, Constantine remains so inextricably intertwined with Lemmy to date no other actor has taken on his iconic role. While highbrow French film critics at the time disdained them as disposable trash the Lemmy Caution films charmed the public combining Gallic savoir-faire with the pace and vigour of Hollywood thrillers.

Much like another notable American export: jazz, these playful fast-paced thrillers were like a shot of brash, sexualized pop culture energy, disrupting the sterile status quo of post-war Europe. The series also captured the imagination of rebellious young cineastes like Jean-Luc Godard. He of course later brought Constantine back as Lemmy for his science fiction masterpiece Alphaville (1965). Early into Cet homme est dangereux Lemmy waxes philosophical how human beings suffer because they are alive. A throwaway line that nonetheless deftly encapsulates the romantic/fatalistic spirit of the then-burgeoning French New Wave. One imagines the film's cheeky, borderline fourth wall-breaking humour ("Speak French", Lemmy cautions Miranda. “They don't get subtitles here”) also appealed to the postmodern prankster sensibilities of filmmakers like Godard.

The creative force behind this particular Lemmy Caution adventure is Jean Sacha. More active as an editor and occasional screenwriter, Sacha had only a handful of directing credits. Among them a lesser known remake of Fantomas (1947), the Franco-Spanish crime thriller One Bullet Is Enough (1954) and O.S.S. 117 Is Not Dead (1957), an entry in the long-running Eurospy film series later parodied by comic actor Jean Dujardin. Here Sacha assembles a sporadically charming thriller. Stylishly shot in velvety black and white but with a loose grasp of a messy, overly convoluted plot. After an arresting intro unfolding events unwisely leave viewer and hero alike befuddled as to what exactly is going on. Sacha compensates for a meandering story-line with some suspenseful set-piece shootouts and fist-fights that seem particularly vicious for their time. Nevertheless we are left emotionally detached from the action. Undoubtedly the charm of this film lies in the incidental moments. Specifically playful banter between the charming but ruthless Lemmy Caution and a selection of vivid, likably characterized women. Nonetheless the characters come across more like actors having great fun playing at noir than desperate people caught in a dangerous situation. The film remains likable yet perhaps ultimately a little too pleased with itself.

Among an exemplary, effortlessly chic cast: Claude Borelli beguiles as the flighty teen heiress. Sadly the young actress passed away tragically young in an accident. Singer Colette Deréal also impresses as the alternately seductive and sinister Constance who shares a memorable climactic cat-fight with Borelli. Deréal had a relatively minor acting career and remains best known for representing Monaco at the 1961 Eurovision Song Contest. Lastly Jacqueline Pierreux, mother of future New Wave star Jean-Pierre Leaud, later enjoyed success as a producer. Euro-horror fans cherish her tour de force performance in the 'Drop of Water' segment of Mario Bava's chiller anthology Black Sabbath (1964). Of course central to the film's enduring popularity among French viewers is Eddie Constantine. He is as ruggedly charismatic as always even if the film over-relies on his hard-boiled narration to hold things together. Also it is a little nonsensical that the American hero's internal monologue is in French.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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