6 April 2008 | dbdumonteil
Frank Villard as Wencelas Vorobeitchic..alias Monsieur Wens...
Immediate background: two novels by Belgian Steeman proved highly successful:"Le Dernier des Six" by Georges Lacombe (based on a HG Clouzot screenplay) and "L'Assassin Habite au 21" by Clouzot himself (his debut) both featured detective Wens who was not even in the latter novel.Clouzot added his then-partner Suzy Delair as exasperating singer Mila-Malou ,a non-Steeman character .
When asked if he would accept to portray M.Wens one more time ,Pierre Fresnay reportedly replied that if he would,he would have to sign his letters "M.Wens" forever.He had felt that portraying the same character put your career in jeopardy (like later actors such as Sean Connery ).
So a new Mr Wens :Frank Villard was not a very good choice:he was the ideal soldier of fortune,the perfect raider ,but as a detective, he was too handsome.No more Mila -Malou,but the script writers introduced Arlette Pipeau,a journalist ,as infuriating as the singer.
The reviews were hard on the film.Cammage ,the director cannot hold a candle to Clouzot,that's a fact ,but how could he? In the field of suspense,in France nobody could.Even today ,I 'm still looking for a director who could make thrillers as exciting as "Les Diaboliques" "Le Salaire de la Peur" or "Quai des Orfèvres" .
A Propos of "Quai des Orfèvres" (1947):it was also a Steeman novel ,but a Wensless one whose conclusion the director completely changed.
"There's nothing left from Steeman's excellent novel" moaned the critics .Well it's not exactly that way.
A scientist needs a guinea pig to build an "Adam" ,an android whose intelligence will surpass man's -which is not a big feat anyway-.So he "rents " an American condemned man -who comes to his desirable property under a cop's watchful eye:both speak French without the slightest American accent,which is one of the biggest flaws of the film).In the house there live his two sons (who hate their father) and his daughter (her part ,which was more important in the novel ,is sacrificed for the sake of the insufferable pencil pusher) who is in love with the professor's assistant -you guess the scientist is not prepared to accept that union-who does not like his boss at all either.Death is around the corner...
Directing is quite weak,but the story is entertaining enough to sustain interest throughout.
The fourth episode of M.Wens' investigations was made the following year with another actor and another director EG De Meyst:recently restored by the Belgian Archives ,it is worth a look.