Aka - Sinners of Paris
This French policier could have come from the pages of an 87th Precinct story. A group of tough cops chasing after a man who killed one of their own. The entire film follows this chase with one side story of a moral indiscretion that has impacts that alter everything. Two delicious blondes with pouts the size of grapefruits are la femme dangerous. Just their existence makes men do stupid things. Little boys. A cop. A crook. The policier aspect is straight forward enough. You follow up on any suggestion. Any clue. And if you have to use less than strict legal methods, you do. You threaten. You hit. You set up small fries to get to the killer. Because he killed a cop.
The main cop is Inspector Vardier (Michel Piccoli) whose partner it was who was killed when Le Fondu (Charles Vanel) escaped police custody. Le Fondu has gone into hiding and loyalty in the underworld keeps him safe. Vardier is a supremely confident man, slightly cruel, prides himself on being a ladies man - but relentless in his search for Le Fondu - through any means and in every dive in Paris - hustling pimps and prostitutes like playing cards. He has a new man attached to him - just joined the police - with a fetching wife ( Danik Patisson) who Varnier sets out to seduce like a dog on a scent. He doesn't have to try very hard with his smooth manners and hard demeanor. But lesson one - you don't fall in love. Le Fondu only has one weak spot - a showgirl (Bella Darvi) 40 years younger than him and as perilous as staring into the sun too long. Lesson two - you don't fall in love.
Piccoli who has just passed away recently and Charles Vanel are about as legendary or omnipresent in French film as it gets. Between the two of them they appeared in over 400 films and were in films from all the great directors. Vanel was already in his mid-60's when this film was made - already a backlog of great films but Piccoli was still in the early stages of his career. They are both terrific here - with Piccoli getting a lot more screen time dominating every scene he is in with his assured acting and an aura of cynicism that wraps around him like a cheap suit. But in the posters it is still Vanel who is primarily featured. Piccoli is not great looking by classic French leading men standards - but something is magnetic about him. He played so many different types of characters in his career - his average looks, receding hairline allowed him to not get stereotyped as either hero or villain.
The director was Pierre Chenal, who was quite well known for his crime films - perhaps best known as the first director to make a version of James Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice (Le Dernier Tournant in 1939 - five years after it was published). The two actresses are lesser known and seem to have gone on to little success. Bella Darvi was at one time actually brought over to the USA to be a in a few films but they didn't pan out for her so she retuned back to France after perhaps having had an affair with Darryl Zanuck who was her prime backer. Later she took to gambling and drink and committed suicide in 1971 at the age of 42.