Friday, August 24, 2012

144. CARTES SUR TABLE (1965)

Critics, at least those who can be bothered to notice that Jean-Claude Carrière collaborated with Jess Franco on two produced screenplays, usually do so to introduce a note of shock. In fact, while it's true that Carrière had written THE DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID (1964) for Luís Buñuel, he was also at this time dashing off a series of Frankenstein pulp novels for Fleuve Noir, à la Don Glut, under the name Benôit Becker -- a side career that Franco only pretended to have under the alias David Khunne. In other words, their alliance was not so extraordinary, least of all to Buñuel's producer Serge Silberman, who put them together in the first place. The script for this Eddie Constantine sci-fi actioner -- known in the US as ATTACK OF THE ROBOTS -- was their second project, preceded by THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z (MISS MUERTE), which was ultimately filmed first in the same year.

In this film, which riffs with true film-lovers' admiration on Godard's recently released ALPHAVILLE (which featured Franco's frequent collaborator Howard Vernon) and its themes of mind control and technology gone mad, Constantine plays retired agent Al Pereira, one of the most recurring protagonists in Franco's filmography. (Vernon and Franco himself have played the part in subsequent films.) When a series of political assassinations around the world are carried out by brown-skinned men wearing dark eyeglasses, Pereira -- now hustling as a free agent private eye -- is approached by the jovially evil Lee Wee (Vicente Roca) who offers him $100,000 to destroy an apparent pretender to his criminal empire; however, when Interpol approaches him with a more insulting offer, that's the deal he takes -- because Al is the kind of hero who drinks only Coca-Cola, never smokes, and never spends the night in a pretty lady's hotel room, a total piss-take on Constantine's established screen image. He soon learns that the eyeglasses house a disguised electronic mind-control device that activates something in Rhesus O blood that darkens skin pigmentation and programs people to kill. Fernando Rey (the husband of THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z's Mabel Karr) and L'IMMORTELLE's Françoise Brion are featured as the pair bent on world domination, and Sophie Hardy plays a fellow Interpol agent posing as -- what else? -- an exotic dancer.

Coming after THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z, which boldly advanced Franco as a stylist in a brave new realm of dark adult fantasy, this film (which, um, shares a title with a French edition Agatha Christie novel) proposes a well-produced, no-less-witty but comfortable return to the sorts of B-crime pictures he had been cranking out earlier in his career. That said, it is a minefield of cinematic reference points (one year after GOLDFINGER, Al's cover name is Frank Fröbe), it perpetuates the mind control themes that preoccupied Franco long before Godard, and it heralds his imminent move toward the sorts of ironic, Pop Art-influenced caper pictures he would make over the next few years -- and, indeed, intermittently for the rest of his fecund career.

Gaumont's DVD is the only source for the uncut film, about six minutes longer than the US version, but it doesn't offer an English track or subtitles. I haven't yet compared the two versions.

Viewed on Gaumont import DVD.


  1. Didn't Carriere adapt Octave Mirbeau's novel here; also an uncredited influence on Franco's Célestine... bonne à tout faire.

  2. DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID was Carrière's Mirbeau adaptation, and I believe, in my earlier review of Franco's CELESTINE (entry 132), I pointed out its relationship to Mirbeau... or perhaps I saved that tidbit for my forthcoming print review in VIDEO WATCHDOG.