(director: Claude Chabrol; screenwriters: Paul Gégauff/Paul Gardner/Eugene Archer/from a book by Ellery Queen; cinematographer: Jean Rabier; editor: Jacques Gaillard; cast: Orson Welles (Theo), Anthony Perkins (Charles), Marlene Jobert (Helene), Michel Piccoli (professor); Runtime: 108; Films La Boetie / Parafrance; 1972-Fr.)

“This unique film is both awkward and mesmerizing.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Chabrol continues to make original films in his own inimical style some very successful, others not quite hitting the mark. This one is a theological mystery that is done in English, from an Ellery Queen novel. It is supported by a fine cast who set an eerie mood for a story that will involve adultery, madness, blackmail, deception, jealousy, theology, and murder. Its major flaw, is that at times it looks as if it were a B-movie.

Perkins’ over-the-top portrayal of the manic Charles is eye-catching. He has sex with his step-father’s wife Helene (Marlene). Chabrol is known for raising eyebrows about the bourgeoisie and has a field day with them. Charles is the adopted son of Theo (Orson), who found him on the doorsteps of his house. Theo is an eccentric, wealthy man who owns just about everything in their village. In 1925 he built his palatial 80 room dream mansion, needing seven servants to take care of the vast grounds.

We first come across Charles in a hotel room, as he awakens from a religious dream all covered with blood. He suffers from memory loss of how he spent the last four days. Worried, he calls his old college philosophy professor (Piccoli) whom he has not seen for years but of whom he has fond memories. He invites the professor to be his guest at the mansion, hoping that the professor can piece things together. Charles tells of his relationship with his father’s wife, shows the prof his studio where he has done classical Greek sculptures of such deities as Jupiter, and he mentions that he is being blackmailed over his love letters to Helene.

To pay off the blackmail ransom Charles steals $25,000 from his father’s safe, making it look like a robbery. But the blackmailer calls again, saying he has photostats of the original letters. This time Helene pawns her diamond necklace, as Charles has the professor do that as a favor. This backfires, as Theo discovers that the necklace is missing and calls the police. The police bring the pawnbroker to the house and he identifies the professor as the one who pawned it. Theo wants to know why, and the professor tells him to ask his son. Charles gets angry with the professor for implicating him in the theft and rebuffs him.

The film begins to make sense if you view it from the unique theological spin it puts on the story. By coincidence on the train back to Paris, the professor overhears a little girl talk about God and the Ten Commandments (the film takes its title by comparing the ten days leading up to the main event in this story with the precepts found in the Ten Commandments). The professor figures out that Theo is playing God; thereby, he can’t control his urge to destroy. But the professor arrives too late on his return to his pupil’s house, and a murder is committed to make it appear like a suicide. It is done with the intention of blaming all the robberies on the mentally disturbed Charles.

This unique film is both awkward and mesmerizing. It seems to want to question how deep our faith is in God, which is a recurring theme in many Chabrol films. The answers are skewed. Chabrol is cynical enough to believe that the rich can get away with anything, including murder. The professor, the hero of the story, walks away from all this with a clear conscience. But Theo remains godlike, charming the public and buying them off with his wealth, making sure that they are only aware of his benevolent side. This is a film that might seem better the second and third time you view it.

REVIEWED ON 1/10/99 GRADE: C+    https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/