3 July 2010 | Bunuel1976
HIGH HEELS (Claude Chabrol, 1972) **1/2
Another odd choice for this director (by the way, the English title makes no sense – much better is the alternate SCOUNDREL IN WHITE), an eccentric character comedy that generally misses the (dubious) mark but is redeemed by a thriller-type twist in the last half-hour which turns it into a Chabrol movie after all! Apparently, he intended it as a disservice to leading man Jean-Paul Belmondo since his own meticulously-crafted films were pretty much ignored by audiences whereas they would indiscriminately lap up anything the star chose to turn his hand to!
Although I had disliked its theatrical trailer – that I caught when I rented a Belmondo DVD collection a couple of years ago – I decided to acquire it regardless as part of my ongoing comprehensive tribute dedicated to its director. Incidentally, I had to watch this in French without the benefit of subtitles – since my only other option was an Italian-dubbed version with superimposed Russian narration!
Anyway, Belmondo (roguish as ever) makes a bet with a number of his card-playing pals that he can hitch up with the least attractive woman around. Meeting up a year later, many of them produce photos of their 'conquests' but, obviously, our hero makes off with the prize money – which he opts to spend vacationing in Tunisia where, running into mousy Mia Farrow (sporting buck-teeth, glasses and a leg-brace!), Belmondo decides to keep up the game! For the record, I had seen both Chabrol (presenting his latest film THE BRIDESMAID) and Farrow (introducing Giuseppe De Santis' neo-realist disaster movie ROMA ORE 11 ) at the 61st Venice Film Festival in September 2004.
But to get back to the film under review: Belmondo and Farrow marry and he takes a job at her eminent father's clinic (the protagonist happens to be a medical student) but, then, her luscious sister – Laura Antonelli – turns up. Obviously smitten with her, Belmondo drugs his wife in order to spend the nights with the younger woman and even Fate lends him a helping hand when the latter's husbands expire repeatedly in freak accidents (the first, involving a tractor, is especially hilarious).
So far, so mediocre – or, at least, not particularly rewarding apart from Pierre Jansen's jaunty score. What is doubly disappointing here is that, in spite of the handiwork of Chabrol's long-time screen writing collaborator Paul Gegauff (a notoriously misogynist individual), the film does not have the courage of its intriguing convictions and makes commercial compromises by nevertheless peppering the whole with beautiful girls like Farrow, Antonelli and Marlene Appelt (as Belmondo's luscious nurse)
not to mention that afore-mentioned surprise ending that comes totally out of left field!
In fact, Farrow's character is revealed to be not quite as naïve as her hubby (and the audience) had been led to believe as she smoothly turns the tables on Belmondo (with the help of a doctor – her lover, played by Daniel Ivernel – who, until then, had been our hero's best friend!). Here, too, we realize that the car accident which had opened the film was merely the first step in the protagonist's systematic emasculation. Speaking of Ivernel, he is perhaps best known for his appearance in Luis Bunuel's 1964 version of DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID which, incidentally, also features repressed bourgeois Michel Piccoli getting it on with his frumpy maid Muni! By the way, at the same time that Chabrol was involved in this occasionally amusing but ultimately thankless movie, his wife Stephane Audran's career was reaching its non-Chabrolian zenith via her participation in Bunuel's THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (1972)!