Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jean-Louis Barrault, Teddy Bilis, Sylviane Margollˇ, Jean Bertho, Jacques Ciron, Annick Alli¸res, Dominique Dangon, Jean Topart, Michel Vitold, Micheline Gary, Jacques Danoville, Andrˇ Certes, Jean-Pierre Granval, Cˇline Sales, Jacqueline Morane
Written by: Jean Renoir
Directed by: Jean Renoir
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 95
Date: 08/09/1959

Experiment in Evil (1959)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Monster Moods

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Francois Truffaut once said that the best film by Jean Delannoy was less interesting than the worst film by Jean Renoir. He also said that "each of Renoir's films marks a moment of his thought. The whole body of his films makes up his work. That's why it's really crucial to gather them together... to appreciate them better, as a painter collects and shows his older and more recent canvases together, covering several periods, each time he holds an exhibition."

Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier (1959) is from the tail end of Renoir's career, underappreciated, but also claimed as a masterwork by the French New Wave critics of the time. A loose adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," the movie was shot more or less live on a TV studio set. Renoir appears as himself at the beginning, as a kind of TV host introducing the story.

Also known as Experiment in Evil and The Doctor's Horrible Experiment, the movie can seem wooden and blocky and not at all thrilling, but Renoir effectively burrows into the emotional content of the story. Jean-Louis Barrault gives a truly astonishing performance in the title role, giving the Hyde character (here called "Opale") a kind of menacing, twitchy, sidling walk. He so completely transforms from one character to another that it's difficult to tell that it's the same man.

In 1964, Jean-Luc Godard added this movie to his list of the "Six Best French Films Since the Liberation."

DVD Details: The film is included in Lionsgate's 3-disc Jean Renoir DVD box set, which also contains unbelievably crisp transfers on all seven titles: La Fille de l'eau (1925), Nana (1926), Charleston Parade (1927), The Little Match Girl (1928), La Marseillaise (1938), Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier (1959), and The Elusive Corporal (1962). Martin Scorsese provides insightful introductions on all the films, and makes persuasive arguments that these films are not at all "minor" Renoirs. A featurette includes interviews with many Renoir fans, including cinematographer Michel Ballhaus, and Renoir's grandson Alain (a professor at UC Berkeley).

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