17 January 2009 | kinsayder
In this jungle variation of "The Postman Always Rings Twice," Mireille Balin plays a bored wife having an affair with a colonial officer (Michel Vitold). When one of the servants, Saïdi, sees them together, the officer, who is in the first stages of malarial fever, becomes paranoid that the husband will discover their secret. He tries to bribe Saïdi and when that fails, he resorts to more drastic methods... Or maybe not. We don't know for sure, because he's lapsing in and out of delirium; and when he later hears noises in the night, it may be Saïdi, Saïdi's ghost or his own imagination.
Despite the exotic setting, the film fails to generate much excitement. Balin is as sleek and sexy as ever, but Vitold is an uncharismatic lead, cadaverous, sweaty and unsmiling. It's hard to see why Balin would go for him, even as an escape route from her stuffed shirt husband (Jacques Dumesnil). Sessue Hayakawa is memorable as the sinister Saïdi, but has little to do other than glower and look inscrutable. The rest of the cast, dressed up in fake beards, seem unconnected to the story.
The jungle sets, constructed on the banks of the Seine, are elaborate but unconvincing. And cold. Though the characters are frequently dabbing at their brows and complaining of the heat, we can sometimes see their breath steaming. It's the only thing that does steam in this tepid romance.
See "Malaria" for Mireille Balin, perhaps the only real vamp that French talking pictures have ever produced, and for whom this was the last film before the end of the war and her arrest and imprisonment (she had an affair with a German officer). She would make one last picture, "La Dernière Chevauchée", released in 1948.