The Champagne Murders (1967)

One from the to watch pile…

The Champagne Murders (1967)

Film: I’ve only ever been to Europe for three days… yep, you read that right: three lousy days! All that flying, exhaustively long stop-overs at other airports so I could get off a plane in England, be shuffled onto a bus to a place called Retford where I was involved in a three day conference and sales meeting, and then was shuffled off back to the airport and thrown back here to sunny Australia.

That was about 21 years ago and I have to say it’s been a constant thorn in my paw that I didn’t get to see more of Europe other than jolly old England. Why? Well I’ve always loved movies set in Europe, I guess mainly the ones from the 60s and 70s, and that probably started with things like Roman Holiday and even tripe like Gidget Goes To Rome, and even the Carry On films to some extent.

This affection continued to grow when I started to really get stuck into watching gialli and from there the films of Armando de Ossorio, Jorge Grau and other European directors of varying quality. I’m not sure if it’s the environments, the architecture, the women or just the fact that even the slimiest of bad guys still seems to be cooler than anyone in a Hollywood film.

This film, The Champagne Murders aka La Scandale is from this period I love, 1967 specifically, and was directed by prolific French director and member of Nouvelle Vague (the French film movement, not the band), Claude Chabrol and was written by Claude Brulé and Derek Prouse from an original story by William Benjamin.

To finish a deal to sell Wagner Champagne, Christine Belling (Yvonne Furneaux) requires the approval of Paul Wagner (Maurice Ronet) to continue to use his family name on the product. Paul has a few problems of his own though: after a violent incident a year or so ago for which he had treatment, he still suffers from an occasionally blackout, which is exacerbated by his chronic alcoholism.

After Paul and Christopher (Anthony Perkins). Christine’s conniving husband, go on a trip to Hamburg, Christine receives a blackmail letter with a newspaper article about a murdered girl, who happens to be the escort that Paul spent the night and had one of his blackouts withhold they were there.

Christine then decides to blackmail Paul into giving up his name, but very soon, another girl in Paul’s company turns up dead… but is it Paul committing these murders, or is he being set up by someone else?

I have to say I did really love this film. It has a deliberate pace so if big budget action films are your thing, this isn’t going to wash. This film doesn’t just convey a story, it is a series of carefully built scenes with amazing subtle and fluid camerawork and spectacular performances from all involved. The best thing about it though is it’s inconclusive ending: yes, the killer is revealed but the circumstances of their comeuppance are left in a delicious open ended finale that reveals that perhaps all problems in the world are just a microcosm, and maybe even insignificant and that the pursuit of money can reduce one’s humanity, and enslave.

The reviewed version was the English language one, so not all of the visuals match the sound perfectly, and the appearance of Perkins must be based on the popularity of Psycho give both the themes of duality, and the fact the score at times feels like it hits some very Hitchcockian notes.

I had never even heard of this film before this week, and it’s rocketed into being one of my favourite films of all time. Give it a look.

Score: ****1/2

Format: This film was reviewed on the Umbrella Entertainment DVD release. Mostly, the 2.35:1 image is of a high quality though some of the stock footage of vineyards suffers from a few artefacts and some damage to the film. The sound is presented in 2.0 and suffers from occasional inexplicable peaks and troughs of volume, but for the most part is clear.

Score: ***

Extras: Not a single thing at all!

Score: 0

WISIA: As a matter of fact, one SHOULD watch it at least twice as the second watch will no doubt reveal several little tics and looks that make so much more sense.

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