RETURN FROM THE ASHES
(director: I. Lee Thompson; screenwriters: Julius J. Epstein/from the novel by Hubert Monteilhet; cinematographer: Christopher Challis; editor: Russell Lloyd; music: John Dankworth; cast: Maximilan Schell (Stanislaus Pilgrin), Samantha Eggar (Fabienne), Ingrid Thulin (Dr. Michele Wolf), Herbert Lom(Dr. Charles Bovard), Talitha Pol (Claudine, prostitute), Jacqes Brunius (1st detective), Jacques Cey (Hotel Desk Clerk); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: NR producer: I. Lee Thompson; United Artists; 1965-USA/UK-B/W)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This remarkable film is based on the 1961 novel Phoenix from the Ashesby the French author Hubert Monteilhet. British director I. Lee Thompson (“Murder Without Crime”/”10 to Midnight”) does a marvelous job with this murder mystery drama, keeping it Holocaust-stricken in spirit. It’s intelligently written by Casablanca writer Julius Epstein.
The haggard looking and facially scarred Dr. Michele Wolf ( Ingrid Thulin, Swedish actress) returns by train to Paris in 1945 after having been liberated from the German concentration camp at Dachau. Before going home to her family, she stays at a cheap hotel under an assumed name and has her Paris doctor friend Bovard ( Herbert Lom) perform plastic surgery to fix her face. The operation is successful, but she has a slightly new look. As she dreams of her past, we find out her back story in long flashbacks. The Jewish doctor flees Germany in the 1930s and ends up in Paris during the occupation, working as a clinician in a Paris hospital’s X-ray department. We learn she’s a wealthy widow with a stepdaughter. The vulnerable Michelle falls for the scheming impoverished gigolo Polish chess master Stanislaus Pilgrin (Maximilan Schell, Austrian descent) and they marry on the day of the occupation. Shortly afterwards the Nazis suspiciously arrest her, leaving no record where to find her. Everyone assumes she’s dead. Meanwhile Stanislaus and Michele’s sexy stepdaughter, Fabienne (Samantha Eggar, British actress), begin an affair while living together in her house. They plan on getting their hands on the wealthy woman’s inheritance, but since they have no proof of her death they must wait 30 years to gain control of the estate according to French law. After the operation Michele is spotted by her stepdaughter as a lookalike for her stepmom, who goes by the name of Julia Robert.
The plan is to get Julia to pass for Michelle, with Fabienne then murdering her after she gets the money. Instead the even more venal Stanislaus murders Fabienne while also planning the death of Michele.
REVIEWED ON 7/31/2018 GRADE: B+ https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/