Combustible Celluloid
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With: Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Edith Scob, Juliette Mayniel, François Guérin, Alexandre Rignault, Béatrice Altariba, Charles Blavette, Claude Brasseur, Michel Etcheverry, Yvette Etiévant, René Génin, Lucien Hubert, Marcel Pérès
Written by: Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac
Directed by: Georges Franju
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 90
Date: 01/11/1960

Eyes Without a Face (1959)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Face' Case

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Georges Franju's 1959 film The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus has been re-released in the United States under its proper title, Eyes Without a Face. This second title is more appropriate, as the film turns out to be a rather upright, upper-class brand of horror pic, not the cheap, pulpy type that the former title would imply.

Eyes Without a Face begins intriguingly with the lovely Alida Valli (The Third Man) driving at night with a mysterious passenger in the back seat -- a passenger who keeps slumping.

The film eventually reveals that Valli works for Professor Genessier (Pierre Brasseur) -- she's dumping one of his failed experiments -- and was one of his former patients. The professor has worked out a way to transplant human faces, so long as the two subjects have a similar structure. Louise (Valli) was one of his first successful operations.

Unfortunately, the professor is having a great deal of trouble with his own daughter, Christiane (Edith Scob), who lost her face in an auto accident. While her father sends Louise out in search of appropriate subjects, Christiane must wear a gruesome mask, one that approximates her delicate features, but that doesn't move. These scenes provide the biggest chills in the film, just looking into that lifeless plastic face.

Strangely, when Christiane undergoes an operation and emerges with a real face, even bigger chills travel up the spine. Her real-life, incredibly fragile visage is both strangely beautiful and disturbing in an unexplainable way. We don't know whether to feel sorrow or relief when the new flesh begins decomposing and she must go back to her mask.

Franju depicts a scene of surgery that still grips with its gruesome horror, even though we can easily guess how it was done.

Eyes Without a Face differs from most horror films in that it refuses to exert a certain kind of abandon, a feeling that anything can happen. Franju instead concentrates on weaving an incredibly frail spell and keeps it wafting in just the right spaces throughout the film; the beautiful black-and-white, Cinemascope cinematography helps a great deal.

The great Thomas Boileau and Pierre Narcejac, whose stories provided the basis for Diabolique and Vertigo collaborated on the screenplay with Franju, building a measure of suspense as outside forces conspire to stop the doctor in his tracks, but it's Franju's atmosphere that keeps the film interesting.

Sadly, Franju is not well known in this country except for this film, which automatically marginalizes him as a non-serious filmmaker. Hopefully this re-release will rekindle an interest in his other works.

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