The milieu is set as two hopefuls trudge into a music-hall agency, where there’s little room for comic singers or "realistic" ones -- harsh times for entertainers in postwar France, Henri-Georges Clouzot should know. The highlight of the Parisian revue is luscious chanteuse Suzy Delair, who wiggles the hell out of "Avec son Tralala" to the delight of Saturday night audiences. (Backstage praise: "Except for the voice and the gestures, it was perfect.") Her husband and piano player (Bernard Blier) "sees vice everywhere," but Delair is, for all her flirtations, devoted to him, and dashes home to present him with her lingerie-clad self (insert close-up of milk boiling over on stove). The ambitious starlet is promised a part in a film by a moneyed fetishist (Charles Dullin), who is threatened by Blier; the old producer turns up dead, the smitten lesbian photographer (Simone Renant) covers up evidence, an investigation is under way. The snap and clutter suggest Clouzot’s familiarity with '30s American movies (and American gags -- the lineup of blonde suspects the camera pans over), but the ignoble suspicions of Le Corbeau still churn under the razzmatazz surface. Louis Jouvet steps into the film’s second half, and takes over. His detective is a ragbag of wry Simenon shtick given unique life by a sardonic master: Former legionnaire and servant, distilling a private acid while enjoying the "sporting side" of police work, doting on the son he brought from the colonies and doffing his hat gallantly to the half-naked chorus girl he bumps into. The rest of the cast is just as vividly keyed, Delair as a tart with depths of feeling, Blier as a blank, meek man made passionate by jealousy, Renant as a cheesecake-studio aesthete ennobled by emotional struggle. The careful building of an alibi, the accident that throws off a murder plan, the way a life is shrunk when translated into police jargon -- Clouzot doesn’t miss a thing, and caps it all with the realization that this caustic vision is, after all, a Christmas tale. Cinematography by Armand Thirard. With Jean Daurant, and Pierre Larquey. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce