Directed by Henri Decoin • Drama • With Raymond Rouleau, Jeanne Moreau, Raymond Pellegrin, Etchika Choureau • 1954 • 98 minutes
An accidental death or a murder? Henri Decoin’s swervy postwar mystery dangles that question over the audience like a loose spotlight, plunging into the teeming worklife of a Parisian theater amidst preparing what looks like a perfectly awful musical play, and struggling to figure out how exactly the theater’s grouchy co-owner fell from a catwalk to his death. Immediately suspicion lands on his high-strung partner, Paul (Raymond Rouleau), who was on the catwalk that fateful moment – was he seen in the act, or is someone lying? Believers and haters emerge out of the bustle of the theater, including Paul’s creepy, antagonistic secretary (Raymond Pellegrin), a troublesome but starry-eyed typist (Etchika Choureau), and Paul’s own wife, who as played by a young Jeanne Moreau toggles from devotion to betrayal in what seems like one slow eyeblink.
Decoin’s movie has an eccentric personality all its own, regarding the folly and travails of the theatrical characters as the raw stuff of farce (as the egomaniacal writer of the odious play-within-the-film, Louis des Funes is a riot), and often detouring away from the primary mystery plot and immersing itself into the scatterbrained life of the troupe. The character arcs and relationships never evolve as you suspect they will; each character seems to be in their own film, and by the denouement, crises of the heart have overshadowed the question of murder. In his nearly-40-year career Decoin embraced virtually every genre popular in France, and this might be his distinctive film.