L’INSOUMIS: Vintage Alain Delon circa 1964

L'Insoumis posterAlso known as The Unvanquished, this often overlooked French film recently aired in April on TCM in an English language version titled Have I the Right to Kill? TCM always tries to air the original language version when it shows international films but in this case, this was the only version available. Still, what was
shown was a gorgeous black and white print that was originally distributed by MGM in the U.S. In many ways, it might possibly be the best of Alain Delon’s early performances and Lea Massari, the beautiful Italian actress who is best known as the seductive mother in Louis Malle’s Murmur of the Heart, has rarely been more appealing in the other key role. Take a look at the U.S. trailer
which plays up the action and the romance –

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/index/?o_cid=mediaroomlink&cid=193131

 

 

L’insoumis is also one of the few films of French director Alain Cavalier (pictured below) to have received distribution in the U.S. along with his more famous 1986 feature Therese, about the life of Carmelite nun St. Therese of  Lisieux, which won the prestigious Golden Palm at Cannes and won 6 Cesars (the French equivalent of the Oscar). On the basis of these two films alone, I think the rest of Cavalier’s work deserves further investigation. His filmography though is relatively brief compared to other French directors of his era due to a possible lack of opportunities. Alain Cavalier

At the time L’insoumis was made, Alain Delon was possibly the most popular male star in France, eclipsing even Jean-Paul Belmondo in terms of international fame. He had already appeared in such landmark critical successes as Rene Clement’s Plein soleil (1960, aka Purple Noon), Luchino Visconti’s two epics Rocco and His Brothers (1960) & Il
Gattopardo
(1963, The Leopard) and Michelangelo Antonioni’s
L’Eclisse (1962) as well as French boxoffice hits such as
Melodie en sous-sol (1963, aka Any Number Can Win).


Unfortunately, L’insoumis would prove to be a bitter disappointment to Delon because of its poor reception though the reason is fairly obvious. The movie takes place against the backdrop of the Algerian War which had ended just two years before and was a painful memory for most French citizens, comparable in some ways to America’s devisive Viet Nam campaign. In addition, part of the film’s plot – the first half – involves the OAS, a group that fought against Algerian independence, and their kidnapping of two people who offered aid to the other side. This was NOT something
French moviegoers wanted to relive. After all, they had been living with the Algerian War since 1954 and wanted escapism, preferring instead to see Alain Delon in some lightweight heist film with Jean Gabin
(Melodie en sous-sol). Another reason Delon was disappointment by the failure of L’insoumis was due to studio imposed cuts which he felt damaged the film’s original intentions and impact though I could find no documentation of this.

Have I the Right to Kill poster

It’s a pity because Delon is better than you’d ever expect in L’Insoumis. He often appeared to be playing
variations of the same character in his movies – a cool, calculating opportunist whose cruel, insolent beauty was irresistible to women. In L’Insoumis, he’s the victim and shows a vulnerability mixed with toughness that humanizes him in a way that rarely occurred in films such as Le Samourai (1967) or La Piscine (1969, aka The Swimming Pool). The movie opens with Delon as a soldier in the French Foreign Legion whose outfit is stationed in Algeria. He soon deserts his post during the 1961 uprising and ends up being recruited by another deserter to assist in the abduction of two French professionals who are aiding the Algerian cause.
In a tense sequence, Delon, who is identified as Thomas, helps ambush a car carrying the dignitaries and at gunpoint, forces the two abductees into a van that carts them away to an isolated apartment where they are
confined to separate cells, presumably to be tortured for information. One of the hostages is Dominique Servet (Lea Massari), a lawyer who, along with her husband, are known for their liberal politics and
humanitarian concerns. It is Delon’s job to guard the prisoners but not interact with them or offer them any comfort. The fate of these two people gnaws at Delon and he finds himself succumbing to Dominique’s repeated pleas for something to drink or to talk through the keyhole. His fellow guard though is another matter and would just as soon shoot the two hostages. The first half of the film, which sets up the captor/captive relationship between Thomas and Dominique, is chilling in its depiction of a hidden terrorist cell where deprivation and torture is the norm.

Il Ribelle di Algeri poster

Then, in a split second, everything changes when the other jailer discovers Thomas offering aid to Dominique and guns are drawn. Bullets are fired. One man lies dead and the other releases his two prisoners and escorts them to safety. L’insoumis then becomes a noir thriller with Thomas, seriously wounded and on the run, much like Sterling Hayden’s character in The Asphalt Jungle. He makes his way back to France, where Dominique and her husband are residing out of harm’s way. Now the situation is reversed and it’s Dominique who holds the key to Thomas’s fate. Can he trust her? Without giving anything away, the
second half of the movie follows the conventions of the standard chase thriller but has a deeper resonance as a fatalistic love story, one obviously doomed from the start but utterly compelling regardless. Even
in the English dubbed version, Delon and Massari project an undeniable sexual chemistry together that eventually culminates in a discreet lovemaking scene (heavily promoted on the U.S. poster and possibly
edited for U.S. audiences). As expected, it’s a race to the bottom but as beautifully realized as such earlier examples of poetic realism as Marcel Carne’s Le Jour se leve (1939) or Le Quai des brumes (1938).

The Queen is Dead album coverCurrently L’Insoumis is not available on DVD or in any format but Turner Classic Movies is bound to run it again. Request it on the TCM web site. Meanwhile, the film lives on in
the popular culture in unexpected ways. The cover of the Smith’s 1986 album, “The Queen is Dead,” features a still of Delon from the movie.

 

 

 

 

 

More recently a color sketch by artist Bernard Evein of Delon’s bedroom in the terrorists’ cell turned up in a blog posting for Cosmopolitan Stories.

http://cosmopolitanstories.blogspot.com/2007_11_01_archive.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bernard Evein sketch from L'Insoumis

 

 

 

 

8 Responses L’INSOUMIS: Vintage Alain Delon circa 1964
Posted By RHS : May 11, 2008 2:40 am

And of course a pic of Diana Dors from YIELD TO THE NIGHT (about which I
wrote recently) was used for yet another album cover by The Smiths.

Posted By RHS : May 11, 2008 2:40 am

And of course a pic of Diana Dors from YIELD TO THE NIGHT (about which I
wrote recently) was used for yet another album cover by The Smiths.

Posted By moira : May 11, 2008 10:17 am

I was happy that I stumbled across this obscure Alain
Delon
film on TCM's schedule last week. While
Purple Noon, Rocco and His Brothers, Any Number Can Win, The
Sicilian Clan, Le Cercle Rouge, & Le Samourai
are among
Delon's essential movies for me–no matter what
language you prefer–this underrated actor deserves to be better known
among American audiences. Though purists may feel that
dubbed movies such as Have I the Right To Kill? (1963)
are unfortunate, it seems that movies without subtitles often make
foreign movies more accessible for the majority of viewers. I'm not
bothered by well-done subtitles, but since dubbed movies can introduce a
new movie and actor to people, I think it's worth the artistic
compromise, (even if I don't think that the actor dubbing
Delon's voice really matched the actor's actual
one very closely in this case).I'm glad that you noted the
similarities between the climax and that of The Asphalt
Jungle
(1950). Though you could see the conclusion coming it
was somehow still moving, thanks particularly to the dream-like
cinematography of Renoir, as well the star and the
director. I hope that more of Alain
Delon
's films will pop up on TCM in the future. Thanks for
drawing attention to this broadcast. 

Posted By moira : May 11, 2008 10:17 am

I was happy that I stumbled across this obscure Alain
Delon
film on TCM's schedule last week. While
Purple Noon, Rocco and His Brothers, Any Number Can Win, The
Sicilian Clan, Le Cercle Rouge, & Le Samourai
are among
Delon's essential movies for me–no matter what
language you prefer–this underrated actor deserves to be better known
among American audiences. Though purists may feel that
dubbed movies such as Have I the Right To Kill? (1963)
are unfortunate, it seems that movies without subtitles often make
foreign movies more accessible for the majority of viewers. I'm not
bothered by well-done subtitles, but since dubbed movies can introduce a
new movie and actor to people, I think it's worth the artistic
compromise, (even if I don't think that the actor dubbing
Delon's voice really matched the actor's actual
one very closely in this case).I'm glad that you noted the
similarities between the climax and that of The Asphalt
Jungle
(1950). Though you could see the conclusion coming it
was somehow still moving, thanks particularly to the dream-like
cinematography of Renoir, as well the star and the
director. I hope that more of Alain
Delon
's films will pop up on TCM in the future. Thanks for
drawing attention to this broadcast. 

Posted By Jeff : May 12, 2008 6:41 pm

Moira, you're right. I first learned about foreign films by watching
the English dubbed versions and it certainly introduced me to
actors/directors I wouldn't have discovered otherwise – BLACK
SABBATH (Mario Bava), CONTEMPT (Jean-Luc Godard), TEENAGE WOLFPACK
(Horst Buchholz). So it's not necessarily a bad thing. If only the
U.S. distributors would take the same care and pride in the dubbing
process that the Italian film industry does.

Posted By Jeff : May 12, 2008 6:41 pm

Moira, you're right. I first learned about foreign films by watching
the English dubbed versions and it certainly introduced me to
actors/directors I wouldn't have discovered otherwise – BLACK
SABBATH (Mario Bava), CONTEMPT (Jean-Luc Godard), TEENAGE WOLFPACK
(Horst Buchholz). So it's not necessarily a bad thing. If only the
U.S. distributors would take the same care and pride in the dubbing
process that the Italian film industry does.

Posted By josem : May 13, 2008 8:14 pm

I have been discovering Alain Delon movies and realizing what a cool
actor he is. I recommend his DVD set featuring some really interesting
films. And the Fabio Montale DVD set features an older though still
rebellious Delon. Hope TCM dedicates a day to his movies.

Posted By josem : May 13, 2008 8:14 pm

I have been discovering Alain Delon movies and realizing what a cool
actor he is. I recommend his DVD set featuring some really interesting
films. And the Fabio Montale DVD set features an older though still
rebellious Delon. Hope TCM dedicates a day to his movies.

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