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  Innocents with Dirty Hands how murder and infidelity rescued our marriage
Year: 1975
Director: Claude Chabrol
Stars: Romy Schneider, Rod Steiger, Paolo Giusti, François Maistre, François Perrot, Hans Christian Blech, Pierre Santini, Jean Rochefort, Henri Attal, Serge Bento, Jean Cherlian
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Cocky writer Jeff (Paolo Giusti) stumbles upon lovely Julie Wormser (Romy Schneider) sunbathing nude and is instantly smitten. Julie is married to the drunken, abusive Louis (Steiger) whom the young lovers plot to murder then abscond with his fortune. But, after Julie whacks Louis over the head, Jeff disappears and so does her husband’s body. Louis’ bank account is mysteriously cleared, leaving Julie facing some awkward questions from the police.

Anyone familiar with the likes of Diabolique (1955) or Blood Simple (1983) might guess where this is heading, but actually you’d be wrong. Claude Chabrol suspenseful thriller plays its trump card after the expected, film noir twist has played out. The result is a deliciously twisted study of marital discord and the quixotic nature of the human heart. The subtext reads almost like a headline from OK magazine: “How infidelity and attempted murder saved our marriage!” It’s a fantastically fresh take on the familiar ‘scheming minx murders older lover’-plot. As the title suggests, beneath the emotional cruelty and murderous schemes, Julie and Louis are surprisingly innocent, loving, and likeable. Adapting a novel (The Doomed Innocents by Richard Neely), Chabrol transforms a sunny, decadent dream world into a waking nightmare (Aided by Pierre Jansen’s creepy score). He masterfully turns the screws as successive revelations increase the claustrophobic tension, and mixes wry humour (a pair of food loving detectives) and sharp, social commentary. The seventies were an era of sweaty, overwrought performances from Rod Steiger (Climaxing in the sweatiest, most overwrought performance of all time: the priest in The Amityville Horror (1979)) that nearly ruined the reputation of this once great actor. Thankfully, he’s atypically subdued and on fine form here, conveying menace with just the right touch of sympathy. Jean Rochefort cameos as Julie’s wily lawyer (“You’re lucky you’re so good looking otherwise I’d have dropped you like a hot potato.”) and momentarily upstages his leading lady.

Here is a mystery: why is one of the most talented and beautiful actresses in European cinema all but forgotten today? Schneider’s brilliant filmography and tragic personal life made her a cult figure in Europe, though the best Hollywood could offer was What’s New Pussycat? (1965). Innocents with Dirty Hands provides a fine showcase for her ability to radiate intelligence and sex appeal with just a glance (Or her voice: listen to Julie read those love letters from Jeff), as Schneider runs the full gamut from quiet despair, vengeful rage, scheming seductress to harried heroine. Hopefully some enterprising company will release a Romy Schneider boxed set to let everyone know what they are missing. Until then, Innocents with Dirty Hands will do just fine, a sublime collaboration between a great actress and a master director that somehow manages to be amoral and extremely moral at the same time.
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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Claude Chabrol  (1930 - 2010)

A renowned director of French thrillers, he was one of the originators of the French New Wave of the fifties and sixties, often concentrating on middle class characters going through crises that led to murder, and made around fifty of these films in his long career. Starting with Le Beau Serge in 1958, he went on to direct such respected efforts as Les Cousins, The Champagne Murders, Les Biches, This Man Must Die, Le Boucher, Blood Relatives, Poulet au Vinaigre, a version of Madame Bovary with frequent star Isabelle Huppert, L'enfer, La Ceremonie, The Girl Cut in Two with Ludivine Sagnier, and his final work for the cinema, Bellamy with Gerard Depardieu.

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