In 1957, Claude Chabrol and Eric Rohmer co-wrote the first major book on the films of Alfred Hitchcock, and Hitchcock’s influence on Chabrol lasted the length of his long career as a movie director. The extremely prolific Chabrol started out with two modest, black and white studies of the creepier sides of male friendship, Le Beau Serge (1958) and Les Cousins (1959). He then went for broke for his third film, A Double Tour (1959), his first movie in color, and the first time that all of his themes and obsessions locked themselves firmly into place. Chabrol spent his artistic life savaging the French bourgeoisie, and I’d always assumed that he was exaggerating their crimes for satiric effect until I talked to a friend who had lived in France and knew its upper-middle-class society well. “Chabrol’s movies on that class of people in France are not exaggerated,” he told me. “They’re practically documentary realism!”
Chabrol was a hedonist who made no bones about how much he relished food and sex, usually in that order, and in A Double Tour, these twin appetites are linked when Richard (André Jocelyn) says of his father’s mistress Leda (Antonella Lualdi) that she is “beautiful enough to eat.” The film opens with maid Julie (Bernadette Lafont) leaning out of a window in her underwear, raising the hackles of the gardener outside, who carries a menacing-looking pair of large gardening shears. Julie takes pleasure in being looked at, and Chabrol continually develops his theme of exhibitionism and voyeurism throughout A Double Tour to both common and fanciful conclusions; he even takes his camera through a keyhole to show that Richard is peeping at Julie in her bra and panties.
The first half hour or so of A Double Tour makes for very horny cinema, what with Chabrol’s zesty leering at the superb chassis of Lafont and the introduction of Jean-Paul Belmondo’s Laszlo, a sexy layabout who brags that he enjoys “all the vices” and surprises his girlfriend by jumping out of a shower and walking around naked (far be it from me to suggest that a Jean-Paul Belmondo nude shot from behind makes a whole film worth watching, but let’s face it, it does).
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Henri (Jacques Dacqmine), a well-off wine grower, is carrying on an affair with the beautiful Leda under the wrathful eye of his wife Thérèse (Madeleine Robinson), a bourgeois viper so believably hateful that it actually comes as a relief when Henri finally talks back to her and humiliates her in front of a mirror over her age and physical appearance. At times, the contrast between the vicious Thérèse and the cipher-like beauty and passivity of Lualdi’s Leda can feel overly schematic, but Chabrol makes it clear in the mid-section of the film that even the lovely Leda takes great store in watching and being watched. At a crucial point in the plot, Chabrol raises his camera and actually casts a green light onto Thérèse’s face to get across her uncontrollable envy, and if this too feels a bit obvious, all is forgiven in the last sinister twenty minutes of A Double Tour, where Chabrol slows down his pace to a crawl and elegantly glides his camera around the Japanese-inspired interiors of Leda’s spacious home.
Richard enters and plays Leda some classical music, and the scene between them builds and builds until the boy makes a harrowing confession into a mirror, so well-written and well-played by Jocelyn that it merits comparison to Peter Lorre’s best scenes in Fritz Lang’s M (1931). A Double Tour is an intricately designed movie that moves smoothly back and forth through time, and it is a film defined and explained by its superb final scenes. Chabrol’s jaded sensibility is an acquired taste, but once acquired, it will leave you hungry for all of his movies and all of his murders. At his best, his films are beautiful enough to eat, but it will only take you a few bites to realize that they’re filled with arsenic.
WATCH A DOUBLE TOUR ON FANDOR.