This Man is Dangerous
 
   
 

This Man is Dangerous
Director: Jean Sacha

Year: 1953
Rating: 7.5
Country: France


This is a very enjoyable tough guy stylish French crime film based on the Lemmy Caution novels. There were 11 of them written by British author Peter Cheyney from 1936 to 1953 (there is an Omnibus on Kindle of them all) - this one is based on the first book in the series of the same name - the French title of the film is Cet Homme est Dangereux. Of the books six were made into films by the French and then of course there is Alphaville by Godard which was not based on one of the books or much of anything else that makes sense.



Eddie Constantine starred as Lemmie in all of them. Later on films with the character of Lemmie with Constantine again in the role were made in 1983, 1984, 1986, 1989 and for the last time in another Godard film in 1991, Germany Year 90 Nine Zero. Constantine was a fascinating figure with his craggy crumpled face broken up like the moon with bad acne in the past - but that just added to to his tough guy image in the films he made.



Born in Los Angeles he went to Europe to study opera - yup opera - but when that didn't work out he went back to America, got married and then went to France where he had an affair with Edith Piaf after he showed her one of his songs that he had written. With Piaf pushing him publicly, Constantine became a French pop star and got into film in 1953 with his role as Lemmie Caution. He was basically to remain in Europe for the rest of his life performing in films and singing - though he was also to appear in some American films. He died in 1993.



I read this book and it is fairly enjoyable as it moves fast and has a lot of bravado - but the dialogue Cheyney writes feels like he took it from watching the Warner Brother's crime films of the 1930's with Cagney, Raft, Bogart and Edward G. Robinson - all exaggerated tough guy talk that would make Hammett and Chandler blush - it was Cheney's attempt at writing American pulp. But it worked and he sold a ton of books though apparently France really took to his Lemmie Caution character. I am not sure many people in America have a clue who he is now.



The film follows the book very closely - though thankfully they re-wrote the dialogue and moved the action from England to France - but it starts about half way into the book - which may have been the right thing to do and certainly no worse than a slap across the face - of which there is a lot in this film - be careful if you go to France - slapping faces seems as popular as drinking wine. The story has a faint resemblance to Hammett's Red Harvest (1927) in which a detective cleans up a town by setting the two gangs against one another - a theme that was later used by Kurosawa and Sergio Leone.



There are some no good hard boiled dames, gunplay, knockabouts, betrayals, whiskey, cool cars and of course the face of Constantine that dominates the film like a giant Chesire cat grinning at the world around him.



Women Are Like That


Director: Bernard Borderie
Year: 1960
Rating: 6.0
Country: France


Lemmy Caution is back for his fifth French film as the hard boiled FBI agent. Rarely seen not hitting someone, drinking whiskey or grabbing a woman, he was an enormously popular character in France. Hard to say why exactly. Kind of like their love for Jerry Lewis and garlic. Some things can't be explained. Caution was played by American actor Eddie Constantine for eight films from 1953 to 1965 (the very peculiar Alphaville from Godard is the most famous) and then years later reprised the role a few times. Constantine had no acting experience when he was first chosen for the role - the producer just thought he looked suitably tough with a face that had seen some long nights at the bottom of a bottle. He ended up making a lot of films in France - pretty much always cast as a rough and tumble character even portraying spy Nick Carter a few times. I would love to get some of these French films but highly unlikely they are available with English subs. Which reminds me - this DVD was dubbed in English - a good job actually as the dubber gives Caution a John Wayne swagger in his voice. Still it was dubbed which is never a good thing.



Caution breaks a lot of furniture along with a few jaws in this one. Starting right from the beginning when he insists on having whiskey in a rip-off nightclub that insists he have expensive watered down champagne. He ends up drinking whiskey. He is in France to track down a spy who no one knows what he looks like and who is famous for taking on various identities. Caution isn't subtle in his investigation - he just knocks down doors and threatens people with bodily damage to get answers - though after a few people end up dead he does admit that some might think he is bad luck. This is mildly fun - low budget - black and white - shot primarily on indoor studio sets but with a nicely scored soundtrack and a not very complicated plot. It rests on Constantine. He takes up solid space - maybe a B Humphrey Bogart but that isn't so bad. The films are based on the books by Peter Cheyney who wrote ten of them from 1936 to 1945. I read the first one in the series and it was less subtle than the films or a punch in the face.


Lemmy pour les dames



Director: Bernard Borderie
Year: 1962
Rating: 5.5
Country: France

A.KA. Ladies' Man

Eddie Constantine is back again as the FBI agent Lemmy Caution. For an FBI agent he spends a lot of time in France. This time he is on vacation but trouble follows Caution like a hungry dog who smells food in his pockets. For some reason Caution is now a celebrity with people chasing him down the streets for his autograph - he enjoys it but admits that for a secret agent it isn't the best thing to have happened. He notices that one woman in particular has been following him. She ( Yvonne Monlaur - Brides of Dracula and Terror of the Tongs) needs his help but as is usually the case with Lemmie, she is killed before she can tell him why.



Lemmy investigates with his fists and strong glasses of whiskey as he avoids being killed or seduced by three women - all friends of the victim - but one is likely to have killed her as well. It is actually a decent enough plot that gets more complex as we go along and the women are lovely but Lemmy's perpetual wide grin in the face of danger is a bit much at times and clues you in that this is not to be taken seriously. He keeps throwing his gun down in a fight because he would rather punch someone in the face. Unfortunately, the version I saw was a badly dubbed, badly synched poor transfer and that was fairly distracting. These dvds were put out by some not quite legitimate budget operation. Seeing these in the original French with a nice clean black and white video would make a difference for sure.





Poison Ivy


Director: Bernard Borderie
Year: 1962
Rating: 5.5
Country: France


As best as I can tell this was the first film produced based on the character of Lemmy Caution from the novels of English author Peter Cheyney. Cheyney wrote ten of them in the 1930's and 40's as well as a bunch of other detective novels. Poison Ivy was Cheyney's second Caution work from 1937. The film is quite good. Surprisingly so after having seen a few of the other Caution films. It appears that as time went on they made Caution more and more of a parody of himself with his cocksure approach and girls dropping at his feet. There is some of that here - as in the novels - but it is kept in check. It is overall a reasonably serious detective/pulpy noir film with a dose of betrayals, shoot outs and a shimmering femme fatale. For reasons only the French can explain this character became iconic in France but nowhere else.



Bernard Borderie who was the director of most of the Lemmy Caution films into the 1960's must have been the man who picked the totally inexperienced American Eddie Constantine to be Lemmy Caution; mainly for his tough guy bad skin look. Up till then Constantine was a singer under the guidance of Edith Piaf and rumored to be her lover as well. It is hard to gauge how good an actor he is since all these films I have seen are dubbed into English but he is definitely a presence. All the dubs seem to have the same voice for Caution so I wonder if it is Constantine's voice. Some day I should watch one of Constantine's American films to do a comparison.



We first catch up with Caution at FBI headquarters in New York where he is told an agent has disappeared and Caution needs to go find him in Casablanca (where the French still ruled the country when this film was made). He finds him alright - dead in a phone booth in a nightclub where the nightly entertainment is the singing of Carlotta (Dominique Wilms) known to her friends as Poison Ivy for good reason. She screams out femme fatale from the next country - a sultry sex laden caricature of Veronica Lake - slim like a lonely lamp post with curves where they should be and a constant mile long cigarette drooping from her lips like a long lost lover - even when she kisses. Dominique has kind of an off-beat slight Picasso look to her but you can't keep your eyes off of her.
She is the moll of the kingpin criminal (Howard Vernon) and never even bats one of her long eyelashes when Lemmy tries to flirt with her. Caution is trying to protect an incoming gold shipment from the US Treasury and dead bodies begin to pile up as well as attempts on his life. It is well-paced with a lot of turns and plenty of action (though badly choreographed by today's standards) for its time. It was hard not to think that one can see the seeds of the early Bond films here in Caution - cool as a cucumber and in and out of jams like a gigolo. This was a big hit in France and led to all the other Lemmy Caution films.