Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Un meurtre est un meurtre (1972)

French Poster

Un meurtre est un meurtre, an Italian-French co-production (aka A Murder is a a Murder in the U.S. and La sedia a rotelle in Italy) directed by Etienne Perier, is a mystery starring Jean-Claude Brialy as Paul Kastner, a car salesman, whose wife Marie (played by Stephane Audran) has died in a roadside accident.  Paul and Marie had been married for five years, and Marie was confined to a wheelchair after being in a car wreck with Paul three years previously.  We see that their marriage has completely deteriorated since the accident, and Paul is having an affair with a dress shop owner, Francoise (played by Catherine).  Marie is aware of the affair and thinks that Paul wants her dead.  Paul, for his part, would not seem to mind if Marie died, but he does not appear willing to do the deed.  Therefore, the accident that takes her life seems like a fortuitous turn of events for him.

Unfortunately for Paul, however, he is faced with one problem after another following her death.  The police do not appear to suspect foul play, but Marie's sister, Anne (also played by Stephane Audran), arrives from New York for the reading of the will.  Paul had never met Anne, and he was shocked at the resemblance to her older sister.  Apparently Marie was very wealthy, because the couple lived in a mansion, and Paul is informed that he has become a wealthy man after inheriting the bulk of her assets.  One stipulation, though, is that Anne will live in the house with Paul to keep Marie's memory alive.

Paul's life becomes really complicated after a stranger, Jean Carouse (played by Robert Hossein), appears to inform Paul that he killed Marie and the he will frame Paul for murder, unless Paul pays extortion money.  This plot-line drives the action through the remainder of the film with Paul refusing to give in, but finding himself being sucked in deeper and deeper.  To make matters worse, Anne has mental problems, which have resulted in her assuming Marie's appearance and personality.  All the while, she accuses Paul of trying to murder her and tries to get the police involved.  Eventually, Paul decides to solve the problem by killing Carouse in a plot that he hatches with the help of Francoise.  After arriving in a secluded location to meet Carouse (and kill him), Paul is knocked unconscious and awakes to learn that someone has beat him to it!

Ultimately, the police commissioner (played by Michel Serrault), solves the mystery and clears Paul. Anne miraculously regains her mental fitness and announces that she is returning to New York, and it appears that Paul and Francoise will live happily ever after.

I am not familiar with Perier's work, but I generally think that he did a competent job with this film, although most consider it to be a cheap imitation of the work of famed French director Claude Chabrol.  Chabrol himself has a bit part in the film as a train conductor that louses up part of Paul and Francoise's plan to create an alibi for Paul in the plot to kill Carouse, and Stephane Audron was married to Chabrol at the time.  Since I am also not familiar with much of Chabrol's work, I do not have an opinion as to how Perier's film compares.  Here is a French advertisement for the film that includes a picture from Chabrol's scene:

For the most part, I find the film interesting and engaging, although it is more "French" in nature and does not feature the type of camera work and pulsating soundtrack that distinguish Italian Giallo-type films of the era.  My biggest complaint is the film's ending, the last 15 minutes or so.  What had been a suspense film wraps up rather mundanely with an explanation of Carouse's motivation and a goofy "happy" ending.  Anne springs from her wheelchair and happily declares that she is returning to New York, after which Paul and Francoise push the wheelchair off to crash down the street as they happily stride into the distance.

As for Catherine, she gives a good performance and looks lovely in this supporting role with long, reddish, strawberry-blonde hair and a healthy figure.  She does not have an extensive wardrobe in the film, and one of her primary styles, black leather pants and a long-sleeve red top, is quite becoming.  In the closing scenes of the film, Francoise runs down the driveway to join Paul, and I could not help but notice Catherine's distinctive running style that we have seen in so many previous films.  It's a charming little touch to close the film.  The version that I viewed was in French, and it is nice to hear Catherine speaking her native tongue (at least it sounds like her to me).  Although nothing about Catherine's role in the film particularly distinguishes it among the best roles of her career, I would rank the film as being amongst Catherine's better post-Hotel films.

The film is based on a novel by Dominique Fabre.  Here is a French paperback tie-in:

Un meurtre est un meurtre was shot in the mid-to-late spring of 1972.  It premiered in France on August 23, 1972 and in the U.S. on November 27, 1974 (per IMDB).  I have not seen any release date information for Italy.
  • The May 3, 1972 Variety reported:  "Claude Chabrol doing walkon bit for Etienne Perier in latter's suspenser, 'A Murder is a Murder,' now shooting with Jean Claude Brialy, Catherine Spaak and Stephane Audrane."
On September 20, 1972, Variety reviewed the film from a showing at the Mercury theater in Paris on September 7 with a 100 minute running time (the version that I viewed had a running time right at 99 minutes, and IMDB shows a 90-minute running time), concluding:

"There are some good ideas in this psychological suspenser but with direction too bland and characterization too surface to give this more than dualer or playoff use abroad, with tv a good probability on its simple close-quarter work, homes chances are good.
Brialy walks through his role as the resigned victim until he finally decides to kill the blackmailer but finds someone has beaten him to it...Catherine Spaak is only decorative as the other woman in Brialy's life."

As for a U.S. release, the November 21, 1974 edition of Variety reported that producer Jerry Pickman had acquired four French-made films for distribution in the U.S., including "'A Murder is a a Murder' directed by Etienne Perier with Stephane Audran, Jean-Claude Brialy, Robert Hossein, and Catherine Spaak."  Other than the release date listed on IMDB (as mentioned above), I have found no other information about a U.S. release for the film, but here is the U.S. one sheet poster for the film (from the archives at

Jerry Pickman was part of the Levitt-Pickman distributing company, which was an independent distributor of the era, so it appears likely that the film only received a limited release in some arthouse theaters and on some college campuses.  I have not yet seen any information to indicate how the film performed at the box office, either in the U.S. or abroad.

The film was released on VHS video in France in 1998, but I have not seen evidence of any other home video releases.

Now, for some non-U.S. promotional material.

Italian posters and fotobustas:

A Spanish poster:

A Brazilian pressbook:

A French newspaper advertisement:

A Polish poster (from the archives at

Unknown promotional item (perhaps German or Austrian?):

Some stills/press photos:

Here is a collector card for the film (I am not sure of the country of origin or date of issue):

A 45 rpm record released in France in 1972:

The soundtrack was included on a CD release in France and Italy in 1996:

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