Friday, April 05, 2019

Magnet of Doom

Based on the novel by Georges Simenon, L’Aine des Ferchaux (An Honorable Young Man aka Magnet of Doom) is the story of a young boxer who is hired by a banker to travel with him to New York to collect money as they later go on the run from authorities and other forces. Written for the screen and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, the film plays into a man trying to find work only to get himself into a much bigger scheme that becomes far more troublesome. Starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, Charles Vanel, Michele Mercier, and Stefania Sandrelli. L’Aine des Ferchaux is a riveting and provocative film from Jean-Pierre Melville.

Following a disappointing end to a once-promising career as a boxer, a man tries to find a job where he is hired by a mysterious banker to travel with him to New York City from Paris to collect money he has in the hopes he can evade family and others while ruling his criminal empire from afar. It’s a film that play into a man that is desperate to have a job where he is asked to accompany a banker with a criminal past to get money that he owes to other partners including family. Jean-Pierre Melville’s screenplay has a unique structure where its first act is set in Paris where the boxer Michel Maudet (Jean-Paul Belmondo) has lost a fight and is now trying to find work where he would sell used clothes and such to get money for himself and his girlfriend. Answering an ad on the paper, Maudet would meet Dieudonne Ferchaux (Charles Vanel) who is dealing with a bank that is failing and people wanting their money back as he knows that he has money in New York City and Caracas, Venezuela.

The second act partially takes place in New York City where Maudet and Ferchaux learn that the latter’s account in the U.S. is on hold due to his criminal background as FBI agents are hoping to extradite him back to France who are also after him. This would lead into a road trip through America towards the South as the two men would encounter their surroundings as well as get to know more about each other which play into their different personalities as Ferchaux just wants to hide while Maudet wants to see America. The film’s third act is set in Louisiana where the two go into hiding at a home which add to the growing tension of different needs and wants between the two as well as Ferchaux trying to protect all he had left.

Melville’s direction does bear elements of style yet much of his direction is straightforward in terms of the compositions he creates. Shot mainly in Paris and studios in Paris with many of the exterior locations in America are shot on those actual locations. Melville would use wide shots to get a look at the locations as well as a few scenes inside a room yet much of it has him shot scenes in a medium shot or in a close-up to observe the relationship between Maudet and Ferchaux. Notably in their first meeting at the latter’s mansion that includes the finest things a rich man can have including beautiful women as it establishes the world that Ferchaux lives in as it’s spacious and having all of these great antiques in a room. Melville’s direction captures so much detail as it play into a world that Maudet wants to be in but knows he has to make some sacrifices to be part of the world. When the film moves to America, it does become a somewhat different film in tone yet Melville does maintain this air of uncertainty in a low-key approach as it play into the dramatic suspense.

Melville’s direction does have a looseness in its approach to capturing the beauty of the American locations that include national parks and such as well as New Orleans where much of the film’s third act takes place. The film’s second act has Melville play into what is at stake where Maudet is aware that trouble is brewing where he is willing to listen to what these FBI agents want but also is sort of protective of Ferchaux. Still, Ferchaux becomes unruly and demanding as Maudet wants to have some freedom of his own where Melville showcases parts of New Orleans as well as a bar/restaurant that he goes to own by a man named Jeff (Todd Martin) who speaks French as he and an associate in Suska (E.F. Medard) have some interest towards Ferchaux that would play into this climax where Maudet either has to be there for Ferchaux or go out on his own. Overall, Melville crafts an evocative and gripping film about a former boxer accompanying a corrupt banker to America to collect money and hide from authorities.

Cinematographer Henri Dacae does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as it has some vibrant colors for some of the film’s interiors including low-key lights for the house Maudet and Ferchaux lived in Louisiana as well the colorful exteriors for some of the locations in America. Editors Monique Bonnot and Claire Durand do excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play into the drama and some of the film’s suspense. Production designer Daniel Gueret does fantastic work with the look of the interiors of Ferchaux’s home as well as the house in Louisiana in its decayed state and the bar owned by Jeff.

The sound work of Jean Gaudlet and Victor Revelli is superb for its natural approach to sound in the way music is presented in a jukebox or the atmosphere of a certain location. The film’s music by Georges Delerue is incredible for its mixture of whimsical score pieces that play into the world of America as well as somber orchestral piano pieces that play into the sense of the unknown while its music soundtrack a mixture of rock n’ roll and Frank Sinatra which Maudet prefers.

The film’s terrific cast feature some notable small roles and appearances from Todd Martin as a bar/restaurant owner named Jeff who converses with Maudet occasionally to find out about Ferchaux, E.F. Medard as Jeff’s friend Suska, Andres Certes as Ferchaux’s brother Emile who wants his brother to pay him back, Michele Mercier as a French dancer named Lou that Maudet meets in New Orleans, Malvina Silberberg as Maudet’s Parisian girlfriend Lina whom he doesn’t reveal anything to her about his job, and Stefania Sandrelli in a wonderful appearance as an American hitchhiker named Angie that Maudet spends some time with on the road.

Charles Vanel is marvelous as Dieudonne Ferchaux as a corrupt banker with a criminal past that is eager to retrieve money he had saved up to escape from people whom he owes money to hoping to get out of America and go to South America where he later deals with illness and the growing indifference from Maudet. Finally, there’s Jean-Paul Belmondo in a remarkable performance as Michel Maudet as a former paratrooper/boxer whose career in the latter ended disappointingly as he takes a job to accompany Ferchaux unaware of the dangers and demands he has to endure where he tries to find his own freedom as well as realize the importance of the money that Ferchaux is trying to hold on to.

L’Aine des Ferchaux is an incredible film from Jean-Pierre Melville that features great performances from Jean-Paul Belmondo and Charles Vanel. Along with its locations, unusual story, George Delerue’s rapturous score, and gorgeous visuals, the film is a compelling story of a man traveling to America to accompany a man to retrieve money only to be watched by authorities wanting that man and his money. In the end, L’Aine des Ferchaux is a sensational film from Jean-Pierre Melville.

Jean-Pierre Melville: 24 Hours in the Life of a ClownLe silence de la mer - Les enfants terribles - (Quand tu liras cette letter) - Bob le flambeur - (Two Men in Manhattan) – (Leon Morin, Priest) – (Le Doulos) – Les deuxieme souffle - Le Samourai - Army of ShadowsLe cercle rouge - (Un flic)

© thevoid99 2019


Anonymous said...

Good review thevoid99. My childhood hero Belmondo did not disappoint, but Charles Vanel was a revelation. His journey from Caesar to 'old man' was magnificently portrayed.

thevoid99 said...

@Anonymous-Thank you. Good to know there's a fan of Belmondo, god rest his soul. He will be missed.