Suzy Delair and Pierre Fresnay in L'assassin habite... au 21 (1942)


(director/writer: Henri-Georges Clouzot; screenwriter: from the novel by S.A. Steemann; cinematographer: Armand Thirard; editor: Christian Gaudin; music: Maurice Yvain; cast: Pierre Fresnay (Inspector Wens), Suzy Delair (Mila Malou), Pierre Larquey(Monsieur Colin), Nol Roquevert (Dr. Théodore Linz), Jean Tissier (Triquet, aka professeur Lalah-Poor), René Génin(Alfred, The Minister of Inerior), Maximilienne(Mademoiselle Cuq), Jean Despeaux (Kid Robert), Huguette Vivier (Mademoiselle Vania), Odette Talazac (Madame Point), Marc Natol (Armand), Louis Florencie (Commissaire Monnet), Raymond Bussières (Jean-Baptiste Turlot), Guy Sloux (Bob Destirac, journalist); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Alfred Greven; Janus Films; 1942-France-in French with English subtitles)

“Diverting serio-comic thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The first solo feature of Henri-Georges Clouzot (“The Wages of Fear”/”Inferno”/”Diabolique”) is this black and white shot diverting serio-comic thriller. Clouzot built a rep as the French Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense. The crime drama, with Jack the Ripper undertones, is based on the the novel by S.A. Steemann. It follows with a surprise ending, and reinforces Clouzot’s belief that anyone is capable of murder.

A serial killer leaves his calling card with the name Monsieur Durand on every corpse, and before we reach the final credits there are 12 murders. The commissioner of police (Louis Florencie) has his best detective, Inspector Wens (Pierre Fresnay), investigate after a lottery winner is robbed and clubbed to death at night in the rainy street. A street thief Jean-Baptiste Turlot (Raymond Bussières), with a streak of honesty, tips off Wens that he found in an attic a stack of the Monsieur Durand calling cards at the Mimosas boarding house, at No. 21 Avenue Junot, while he was attempting to rob the place and that he’s certain the killer lives there, but he doesn’t know who the killer is. Wens goes there disguised as a Protestant pastor. His annoying aspiring singer live-in girlfriend Mila Malou (Suzy Delair) thinks catching the killer will give her good publicity to kick-start her stagnant career and she also wants to collect the 100,000 francs reward money. Thereby the dizzy lady takes a room in the boarding house to her hubby’s consternation. The suspects include the sourpuss killer lover abortionist Dr. Linz (Nol Roquevert), a thieving flamboyant showbiz fakir using the stage name Professor Lalah-Poor (Jean Tissier), Colin (Pierre Larquey) is the unlikable suspect who makes dolls for sale of Monsieur Durand, the gruff landlady Madame Point (Odette Talazac), the whistling inattentive showbiz doorman Armand (Marc Natol), the blind ex-boxer Kid Robert (Jean Despeaux), the boxer’s attractive seductive nurse (Huguette Vivier), and the spinster writer Mademoiselle Cuq (Maximilienne). Suspects are arrested, but when the murders continue they are let go until Wens figures out what’s going down.

The wartime pic features the Germanic expressionist look. Its despotic director directed a popular film but it seems he was into slapping the performers if they did not perform up to his high standards. Suzy Delair claims the director slapped her. Though I don’t advocate such bullying tactics, I must say Delair’s hammy characterization was an irritation.