Monday 15 July 2024

7 HOMMES EN ENFER (ANTENNE 2, 1981)

The world is on the brink of a nuclear war and the President of France must make an important decision.

7 hommes en enfer is a 75-minute French political fiction TV movie written and helmed for Antenne 2 by author, scriptwriter and director Youri Komerovsky (aka Youri), known for the youth television series Le monde enchanté d'Isabelle (1973) (1). Youri also worked on dramas like Les Cinq Dernières minutes, Les enquêtes du commissaire Maigret or Messieurs les jurés. He even directed a young Gérard Depardieu in L'Inconnu (1973) and Linda Thorson (The Avengers) in Les palmiers du métropolitain (1978)
 
Shot during spring 1979 (2), 7 hommes en enfer was aired by Antenne 2 on May 14, 1981. The confrontation between the two atomic superpowers is at its peak and a country allied to France is directly threatened. Nuclear dissuasion seems the only solution for the President of France. He summons the Prime minister, three important ministers, the Army Chief of Staff and the intelligence chief in the middle of the night to get their opinion and inform them of his choice. Suddenly, a siren warning of a nuclear attack prompts the seven men to go down into the presidential fallout shelter. Soon, they feel the need to assess the situation above and decide to send three of them outdoors, dressed in anti-radiation suits.

The idea of the script came to Youri at a time when the tensions between Soviet Union and the United States were an everyday preoccupation in Europe. 7 hommes en enfer opens with a real vox pop where people in the street are asked about the possibility of a Third World War. The writer/director did a lot of research but the channel, which financed 7 hommes en enfer, was worried of the cost of the sets he had in mind. Youri reduced the shooting to a record 16 days in order to save money for his vision of the project (3). The result suffers from obvious budget limitations but is redeemed by a clever scenario, served by a brilliant cast, and a disillusioned twist ending.

Christian Barbier (La Horse, L'Armée des Ombres) plays Guillaume, the Foreign secretary. Barbier reached fame with the ORTF drama L'Homme du Picardie (1968) and he almost became the successor to Raymond Souplex in Les Cinq Dernières Minutes (4). Defense minister Daniel is played by the great stage, cinema and television actor Michel Vitold (L'homme qui revient de loin, Judex). Character actor Jacques Lalande has a short but effective participation towards the end as The Delegate. Also with François Darbon (Minister of the Interior Simon), Maurice Garrel (General Karr, the Army chief of staff), Paul Guers (Prime minister Philippe), Claude Mann (Hollandy, the Intelligence chief), Georges Marchal (The President), etc.

Produced by Christian Chivot and Évelyne Hamel. There's no original music, as often with French  TV productions of the time. Sound illustration by James Madelon. Cinematography by René Mathelin. Editing by Huguette Ajax and Michel Fournier. Production designed by Bernard Thomassin.

(1) Also a series of book written by Youri.
(2) (3) Télé 7 Jours N°1093 (May 9, 1981)

Thursday 11 July 2024

LES CINQ DERNIÈRES MINUTES: LA MÉMOIRE LONGUE (ANTENNE 2, 1975)

Commissaire Cabrol and Inspector Ménardeau, of the Police judiciaire, investigate a murder in the world of junk dealers.
 
La mémoire longue is an episode of the feature-length French detective series Les Cinq Dernières Minutes (1958-1996).
 
Created by journalist, director, scriptwriter and producer Claude Loursais, Les Cinq Dernières Minutes is one of the first series in the History of French television. It was launched on January 1, 1958 on the only channel of RTF (Radiodiffusion Télévision Française), the predecessor of ORTF (Office de radiodiffusion-télévision française). Les Cinq Dernières Minutes went through many changes in three "eras" until France 2 shown its 149th episode on December 20, 1996The first era (1958-1973) was penned by Claude Loursais  who directed most of its episodes  with Fred Kassak, Louis C. Thomas, Michel Lebrun, Maurice-Bernard Endrèbe, Henri Grangé, André Maheux, Jean Cosmos, etc. This version starred Raymond Souplex as Inspecteur/Commissaire Antoine Bourrel and Jean Daurand as Inspecteur Dupuy.
 
The popularity of Les Cinq Dernières Minutes peaked in the 1960s-1970s and turned Raymond Souplex and Jean Daurand into TV stars. Bourrel's catchphrase (« Bon Dieu, mais c'est bien sûr! ») entered the vernacular. The series was adapted in Germany (Dem Täter auf der Spur, 1967-1973). The programme switched from black and white to colour in 1971 and Dupuy was gradually phased out after Jean Daurand's health issues. Following the death of Souplex in 1972, four TV movies were tested by Loursais between July 1974 and January 1975 (not in production order) on the Deuxième chaîne and Antenne 2: Rouges sont les vendanges, Fausse note, Si ce n'est toi and Le Coup de pouce. Those films, independent from Les Cinq Dernières Minutes though built on its "formula", introduced new detectives and the famous theme music by Marc Lanjean (1) was notably absent.
 
In 1974, Jacques Debary (Poker d'aswas announced  as the unnamed commissaire of Loursais' new (as yet untitled) mystery drama and that the shooting of its first episode had begun. This episode, called Le lièvre blanc aux oreilles noires, was aired by Antenne 2 on May 19, 1975 as part of a relaunched Cinq Dernières Minutes. Commissaire Broussard (Debary) had to be renamed Cabrol because there was a real-life supercop named Broussard. Helmed by Claude Loursais and penned by novelist and writer Jean Chatenet, La mémoire longue is the second episode of what TV magazines called "Les Nouvelles Cinq Dernières Minutes". Actor Marc Eyraud returns as Inspector Ménardeau, seen in Si ce n'est toi, Fausse note and Rouges sont les vendanges.
 
Martin Lagache, a petty junk dealer, and his girlfriend Thérèse steal a box of phonograph cylinders during the moving of the wealthy antique dealer Gilles Pierrefort. Soon, Martin behaves like he has received a huge sum of money. A furious Pierrefort arrives at his shop and wants to see him but the young man is found stabbed to death. Cabrol and Ménardeau interrogate two colourful junk dealers, Georgette and Félix, and meet Gilles Pierrefort. When he arrived in summer 1974, Ménardeau was quickly compared to Columbo. His creator Claude Loursais, irritated by this comparison, argued that the inspector preceded the American lieutenant (2). Except that the dishevelled detective portrayed by Peter Falk was first seen on French TV in December 1972.
 
Claude Loursais probably stopped feeling annoyed because La mémoire longue is influenced by Columbo beyond the presence of Ménardeau, even if the murderer is not known from the start. The great stage, television and cinema actor Jean Topart (Rocambole) is fabulous as Gilles Pierrefort. Topart had an extraordinary voice, which made him work extensively for radio and dubbing. The antique dealer is Jean Chatenet's answer to the rich villains of Columbo. Of course, Cabrol and Ménardeau engage in a psychological confrontation with him. At some point, Ménardeau says that he must talk to his wife. Officially christened Cabrol in this episode, the commissaire is "softer" than in Le lièvre blanc aux oreilles noires. The Gitanes Maïs smoker has now the sense of humour.

Anémone plays Thérèse. The actress played supporting roles in three episodes of Les Cinq Dernières Minutes in a row, this one included. In the 1980s, she became a star of the big screen and had a versatile career with films such as Le père Noël est une ordure (1982) or Le grand chemin (1988). In the former her character is named Thérèse too. Also with René Lefevre (Félix), Georgette Anys (Georgette), Bernard Allouf (Martin Lagache), Liliane Gaudet, Nono Zammit, Henri Crémieux... Produced by Jean Le Coz. There's no original music, as often with French  TV productions of the time. Cinematography by Pierre Mareschal. Video editing by Christiane Coutel. Film editing by M-L Stockhrasen. The duo Cabrol-Ménardeau bowed out in 1991, to be replaced by Pierre Santini (Un juge, un flic) as Commissaire Julien Massard and Pierre Hoden (Inspecteur Antoine Barrier) from 1992 to 1996. 
 
The episodes of Les Cinq Dernières Minutes from 1958 to 1991 are available on Madelen, the streaming service of INA. The Cabrol-Ménardeau era was shown in Germany on ZDF as Kommissar Cabrol ermittelt - Die Fälle des Monsieur Cabrol.
 
(1) Arsenic Blues, composed by Marc Lanjean for the movie La Peau de l'ours (1957).
(2) Télé 7 Jours N°793 (May 10, 1975).

Monday 8 July 2024

FAUSSE NOTE (ORTF, 1974)

Fausse note is a colour 95-minute mystery TV movie produced by ORTF (Office de radiodiffusion-télévision française) and aired by its Deuxième chaîne on August 1, 1974.

It's also one of four very peculiar episodes of the detective series Les Cinq Dernières Minutes (1958-1996).
 
Created by journalist, director, scriptwriter and producer Claude Loursais, Les Cinq Dernières Minutes is one of the first series in the History of French television. It was launched on January 1, 1958 on the only channel of RTF (Radiodiffusion Télévision Française), the predecessor of ORTF. Les Cinq Dernières Minutes went through many changes in three "eras" until France 2 shown its 149th episode on December 20, 1996. The first era (1958-1973) was penned by Loursais  who directed most of its episodes  with Fred Kassak, Louis C. Thomas, Michel Lebrun, Maurice-Bernard Endrèbe, Henri Grangé, André Maheux, Jean Cosmos, etc. This version starred Raymond Souplex as Inspecteur/Commissaire Antoine Bourrel and Jean Daurand as Inspecteur Dupuy. Pierre Collet played Brigadier Coulomb

Les Cinq Dernières Minutes began as a mystery gameshow aired live. Two selected viewers watched a whodunit, then Inspecteur Bourrel asked them the solution and how to prove it with the possibility to watch again two scenes. Les Cinq Dernières Minutes dropped live broadcasting and the game format to explore different socio-professional environments in episodes shot in studio on video and on 16mm film for the locations. The popularity of the programme peaked in the 1960s-1970s and turned Raymond Souplex and Jean Daurand into TV stars. Bourrel's catchphrase (« Bon Dieu, mais c'est bien sûr! ») entered the vernacular. The series was even adapted in Germany (Dem Täter auf der Spur, 1967-1973). Les Cinq Dernières Minutes switched from black and white to colour in 1971 and Dupuy was gradually phased out after Jean Daurand's health issues.
 
In September 1972, Raymond Souplex worked on the 56th episode, Un gros pépin dans le chasselas. The shooting was interrupted by the ORTF rolling strikes of October but the scenarios of two episodes, Les griffes de la colombe (Episode 57) and Fausse note, were ready (1) so the actor rehearsed the former on November 20. He died two days later from cancer, aged 71. Claude Loursais decided that Episode 56, completed thanks to script changes and editing, would be the final one (2). Nevertheless, four TV movies were tested between July 1974 and January 1975 (not in production order) on the Deuxième chaîne and Antenne 2: Rouges sont les vendanges, Fausse note, Si ce n'est toi (formerly Les griffes de la colombe) and Le Coup de pouce. Those films, independent from Les Cinq Dernières Minutes though built on its "formula", introduced new detectives and the famous theme music by Marc Lanjean (3) was notably absent. 
 
Helmed by Claude Loursais, Fausse note was penned by Louis C. Thomas and Michel Lebrun. Like Si ce n'est toi it was written for Bourrel, so both scripts had to be revised. Gilbert Gauthier, a flamboyant musician and composer, is shot dead in his soundproof appartment. Oddly, the murder was caught by Gauthier's tape recorder. Officier de police principal Ménardeau investigates. The excellent Marc Eyraud is back as the Columbo-esque Ménardeau after the first appearance of his character as the sidekick of the main detective in Si ce n'est toi. His religious beliefs, no longer mentioned, are replaced by a cynical sense of humour. The good plot is enriched by the presence of real musicians amongst the cast, starting with Jamaican jazz trumpeter Sonny Grey as Aristote. Accordeonist and trombonist Charles Verstraete has an uncredited cameo in a flashback scene. Violonist Gérard Jarry talks with Ménardeau.

Clarinetist Julien Froment is played by the legendary French actor, singer and musician Guy Marchand. He worked for the greatest film directors and his resume includes the main role in the crime drama Nestor Burma (1991-2003), based on the novels by Léo Malet. Alain Mottet (Vidocq) delivers a superb performance as Igor Cléry. Henri-Jacques Huet, a familiar of Les Cinq Dernières Minutes in different roles, returns and this time he's the victim. Jean-François Rémi, of the Comédie-Française, plays Richard Barnett. He was one of the regulars of the ORTF sci-fi series Aux frontières du possible (1971-1974). Popular supporting actress Florence Blot (Un curé de choc) shares a great scene with Marc Eyraud/Ménardeau as "La concierge". Also with Laurence Vincendon (Sophie Cléry), Gilles Guillot (Sound engineer), Jeanne Herviale (Madeleine), Claude Bertrand (Thoreau), Nono Zammit (Doudou), etc.

Produced by Pierre Monzat and Michelle Piétri. Music by composer, conductor and pianist Jean-Claude Pelletier. Cinematography by Michel Carré. Video editing by Christiane Coutel. Film editing by Roger Taconnat. After Fausse note, Ménardeau became the deputy of Commissaire Le Carré (Christian Barbier) in Rouges sont les vendanges. The four TV movies are retrospectively considered as "La période intermédiaire" of Les Cinq Dernières Minutes. In 1974, Jacques Debary (Poker d'aswas announced  as the unnamed commissaire of Loursais' new (as yet untitled) mystery drama and that the shooting of its first episode had begun. This episode, called Le lièvre blanc aux oreilles noires, was aired by Antenne 2 on May 19, 1975 as part of... Les Cinq Dernières Minutes. Commissaire Broussard (Jacques Debary) had to be renamed Cabrol because there was a real-life supercop named Broussard. Marc Eyraud came back again as Ménardeau in the following episode for an association with Cabrol which lasted until 1991.
 
Pierre Santini (Un juge, un flic) as Commissaire Julien Massard and Pierre Hoden (Inspecteur Antoine Barrier) were the final duo of Les Cinq Dernières Minutes from 1992 to 1996. Perrette Souplex, the daughter of Raymond Souplex, guest starred as Bourrel's daughter in a 1995 episode. The episodes of Les Cinq Dernières Minutes from 1958 to 1991 are available on Madelen, the streaming service of INA