I’m very backed up with films, so these two Rene Clement films get double-featured here, rather than their own posts. Joy House, in particular deserves its own. I’ll get back to some scene analysis soon.
Rider on the Rain stars Charles Bronson as Harry Dobbs opposite Marlene Jobert as Melancolie (Mel) Mau. In what is basically a mistaken-identity thriller, Dobbs shows up at Mel’s door searching for the missing briefcase of an unknown man who “rode in on the rain” the previous night. The problem – this man raped Mel and she killed him. The other problem – no one’s supposed to know this aside from Mel, but Dobbs seems to.
Like Rene Clement’s best films (Forbidden Games, Purple Noon, Joy House), Rider on the Rain is filled with sexual tension and a highly mobile camera. Clement, who along with a handful of other notable directors, directed prior to the New Wave and continued to direct alongside those filmmakers, is a visual storyteller whose style didn’t conform that much alongside the swingin’ French ’60s. A former protege of Cocteau (Clement did uncredited work on Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast), the style is not as ephemerally poetic, but retains much of the cinematic flair.
Rider on the Rain works for a number of reasons, but first and foremost is Bronson’s performance. I’m becoming more and more of a Bronson fan as I see his versatility. He plays Dobbs with the bravado we all know, but there’s a very sincere sense of humor underlying it all and a smile that is really worth more than the words a lesser writer and/or director would have had him say.
Bronson’s Dobbs is also complex – a character who isn’t afraid of violence (though most of it is psychological), he’s actually the good guy in a film that’s a sort of whodunit when we already know whodidit.
Luckily for all of us there’s a big chunk of this film on YouTube. There are SPOILERS if you watch this whole thing, so just start it at 11:15:
This is a really dynamic frame, and Clement gets a ton of mileage out of one camera position here. There’s the suspense factor (what is Mel doing?) and some nice foreground to break up the frame and make the simple pan felt even more. The huge tire makes Mel feel small, but also makes her actions – if a tire’s that big how big is the guy she’s dragging? – feel larger.
Joy House is the stronger of these two films. It stars Alain Delon as Marc, opposite Jane Fonda as Melinda. Strangely enough I just watched Farewell, Friend, which, though not directed by Clement, stars Delon and Bronson together.
The script for Joy House is really excellent. It’s sort of like a more thriller-oriented version of Losey’s excellent The Servant, where here Marc is on the run from a group of criminal’s and moves into Barbara’s (Lola Albright) estate as the servant and chauffeur alongside Melinda.
Of course Delon’s performance is great – he’s always great – but this is the rare film where I like Fonda, whom, to say I find over-dramatic would be under-dramatic. Her Melinda is flirtatious, but also naive and calculating. In what basically becomes a game of cat and mouse and mistaken identities, Clement’s camera has a real field day, using the various mirrors and secret passages to great effect.
Check out this clip below, starting at 0:50, for a great example of Clement’s fluid, but minimal, camera:
With very little movement outside of a pan (there’s a slight dolly at the end as we move outside), the action stays tense. It’s due to the quick way it’s staged, the nice little visual trick with the nun at the beginning, and the various “set pieces” moving throughout (the nun, the baggage cart). The frame-within-a-frame when Marc jumps through gives nice depth to the image. One camera position and set-up for this moment, and Clement gets as much energy out of it as nearly any quick chase scene might.
Here’s another good clip demonstrating those mirrors I mentioned above:
The opening camera move, one shot up until 0:25, is simple but gorgeous. It follows Melinda from alone and lacking confidence (outside the room), to mirrored and confident (inside the room). The energy from the camera kind of mimics her own building boldness, and the game she subsequently plays with “the man in the mirror” is certainly echoed by her own visual dual identity in the shot. Good stuff.