Appellate Judge James A. Stewart just found a strange pipe in his jacket. He's heading for the train station.
"Barbara—she takes, she decides. What she wants, she gets."
"Nobody's ever heard of an American actress making a name for herself by taking off to Europe," Jane Fonda is quoted in American Heritage as saying as she headed across the pond to star in Joy House (Les Felins). It might not have seemed like a good move at the time, but Fonda soon found herself surfing the French New Wave and marrying famed director Roger Vadim as a result, the magazine notes.
Koch Lorber Films has released Joy House with two versions—one with English soundtrack, the other with French soundtrack—on one DVD.
Facts of the Case
Marc (Alain Delon, Dirty Money (Un Flic)) returns to his hotel room to find some steamed mobsters waiting for him. No, that's not a typo; Marc slept with the mob boss' wife. The frightened con man takes refuge in a homeless shelter, but when the mobsters drop by to take a look around, he decides it's time to get out.
Fortunately, Marc noticed widow Barbara (Lola Albright, Kid Galahad) and her cousin Melinda (Jane Fonda, Cat Ballou), who have been helping out—and they've noticed him. They offer him a job as chauffeur and a room above the garage.
It's a perfect setup for hiding out, but it could get dangerous, what with both women falling for him. When Marc finds an unfamiliar pipe in his coat and a dent in the car, he tries to get out. Between the mobsters and the women, that could be trickier than he thinks.
Was this movie made in English or in French? I'm not sure, but it looks like both—in the way that a few Toho sci-fi movies in Japan were made with dual soundtracks. Close ups on people speaking that would make dubbing obvious are rare.
Which version would I recommend starting with? If you don't absolutely dread subtitles, go with the French version. The French version stirs in English dialogue when appropriate, making for a more natural feel. Slight changes in the dialogue also tilt toward the French version.
Either way, director René Clément's Joy House is a stylish thriller, its noirish touches emphasized with the black-and-white cinematography. Marc's escape from his would-be killers as the movie opens (thanks to his MacGyver-like use of his last cigarette) gives it a rousing start. When Marc meets Barbara and Melinda, the movie switches over to an atmospheric moodiness and foreboding. The twists are foreshadowed, but you're still likely to be at least partially surprised.
Alain Delon's Marc is basically a Hitchcockian hero, passive at first but later a man of action. Marc's a bit dodgier than Hitchcock's protagonists, though. His occupation is listed on his passport as "manipulator"; that refers to cards and other objects officially, but he's really a manipulator of people. Delon is equally adept when showing Marc in control of the situation and, later, realizing that he has been led all along. Delon makes the unsympathetic character interesting enough to keep the audience hooked.
Both Lola Albright and Jane Fonda give performances that are entrancing as they keep the audience wondering. At first, Albright comes off as reserved, while Fonda shows her infatuation with Marc right away. As the plot twists into a pretzel, the actresses shift gears with their characters, including a campy scene in which Melinda shows her claws, so to speak, as she and Barbara fight over Marc.
The movie must have been steamy back in 1964, but its bedroom scenes and hints of nudity are reasonably subtle from today's perspective. I wouldn't call it a family film by any means, just milder than similar modern movies.
The film has some specks and flaws, but is reasonably good for a minor 1964 release. The soundtrack shows off a great jazzy score by Lalo Schifrin to good effect, but in the English version, a few of Delon's lines are hard to decipher.
A French theatrical trailer is included. It's pretty good as trailers go, setting the mood without ruining the plot.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Sometimes less is more in writing a review, and this is one of those times; I held a few things back to avoid spoilers.
The big flaw here is the lack of background material. Joy House kicked Jane Fonda's career into high gear, but Koch Lorber doesn't include any background on it. I'm also eager to know more about the two soundtracks.
While Joy House doesn't seem to have gotten much attention over the years, I can see how Jane Fonda made a splash in it early in her career. She's seductive, managing to seem sweet while showing a more complex side.
The movie's also a great example of the New Wave thriller. It's a bit more of a mood piece than the DVD cover blurb suggests ("An edge of your seat thrill ride along the French Riviera"), but there are enough thrills in the chases to make it true enough.
Watching, I was surprised that Joy House isn't a movie that people have been talking about for years. If I've piqued your interest, check it out.
Not guilty. I'm getting my surfboard ready for any more French New Wave
movies that might roll in.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Lorber
• Theatrical Trailer
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