Someone is Bleeding: Les seins de glace (1974)

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Before Richard Matheson etched out a name for himself as a popular writer of horror and science fiction he dabbled in crime fiction and mysteries. His very first novel was a pulpy noir titled Someone is Bleeding (aka The Frigid Flame or The Untouchable Divorcee) and it features many of the genre’s typical tropes. But Matheson was anything but a typical writer and this psychosexual thriller contains some surprising twists and turns including an ending that would have been right at home in an Edgar Allen Poe story or an EC Comic book from the ‘50s. In fact, after enjoying all the brash and snappy dialogue exchanges in Matheson’s 1953 literary debut you half expect the Crypt Keeper to appear at the end with some kind of funny anecdote to lessen the horror of the book’s final chapter but there’s no simple escape from this grim story. Like many of Matheson’s best tales, Someone is Bleeding leaves readers with an unshakable sense of dread and despair. In Matheson’s imperfect world everyone and everything is suspect. No one is safe and nothing is sacred.

In 1974 French director and screenwriter Georges Lautner adapted Someone is Bleeding for the screen under the title LES SEINS DE GLACE aka ICY BREASTS. His script made many changes to Matheson’s original story but some elements remained the same. Lautner’s film moves the action out of Los Angeles and onto the French Riviera where a free-spirited and rather naïve writer named François Rollin (Claude Brasseur) becomes obsessed with an aloof blond called Peggy (Mireille Darc). At first Peggy forcefully rebuffs his aggressive come-ons but François manages to win her over with his childlike sense of humor and naivety. Their budding relationship is interrupted by Peggy’s overbearing lawyer, Marc Rilson (Alain Delon) who begins questioning François’ intentions and insists on having a gorilla-like doorman (Michel Peyrelon) and chauffeur (Emilio Messina) keep track of the couple’s every move. Complicating matters are the lawyer’s wife (Nicoletta Maschiavelli) and brother (Fiore Altoviti) who claim that Marc is having an affair with Peggy and wants François out of the picture so he can have her all to himself. When a scissor wielding killer starts leaving a trail of dead bodies behind everyone becomes a suspect. François and Peggy eventually flee to the French Alps but just as the carefree François begins to think that he’s capable of breaking through Peggy’s icy façade, his romantic delusions are shattered by a life-threatening revelation.

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In an obvious effort to modernize the noir aspects of Matheson’s original tale, Lautner’s film takes a much subtler approach with the material. But nixing the bold dialogue exchanges and eliminating the original shock ending didn’t do the film any favors. Lautner is a capable filmmaker who is probably best known for a series of spy films he made in the early ‘60s with Paul Meurisse but as a director he specialized in comedy. ICY BREASTS needed the skilled touch of someone like Claude Chabrol or René Clément who would have capitalized on the film’s suspenseful premise. Something is Bleeding could be transformed into another VERTIGO (1958) or REPULSION (1965) in the right director’s hands but Lautner’s low-key approach fails to convey the most intriguing and exciting elements of Matheson’s story making the film somewhat of a slog to get through if you’re familiar with the book.

Richard Matheson often complained about the film adaptations of his work and ICY BREASTS was no exception. In a 2005 interview included as an introduction to Noir (a collection of the author’s crime fiction) Matheson said “My recollection is that the film doesn’t follow the book all that closely, and of course it takes place in France, so it has a different environment. I’d like to get the film rights back because I think in today’s market it might do well out here. The hero (Claude Brasseur) was some guy I never heard of, nor the woman (Mireille Darc). I know Alain Delon played the lawyer. That was the right thing—Alain Delon looked too sophisticated to play the naïve writer.”

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LES SEINS DE GLACE aka ICY BREASTS will undoubtedly disappoint Matteson fans eager to see a faithful adaption of Someone is Bleeding and I count myself among them, but as a moody French thriller the film does have its charms. The two leads (Claude Brasseur and Mireille Darc) have very little chemistry and fail to convey the complex inner lives of the characters they’re portraying but Alain Delon’s always fun to watch. Throughout his career Delon often took less glamorous roles where he was forced to play a criminal or ‘bad boy’ and he easily morphs into a slick lawyer with a hidden agenda in ICY BREASTS. Unfortunately his character is underwritten and doesn’t get much screen time, which is surprising considering that Delon was also one of the film’s producers. Still, the film benefits from Delon’s presence and he keeps you wondering what direction his character might take right up until the final credits role. The film also benefits from an effective and expressive soundtrack by composer Philippe Sarde, which underscores the films melancholy ambiance. And finally, Director and screenwriter Georges Lautner does manage to stage one highly stylized scene that’s worth the price of admission. Without giving too much away, this memorable sequence of events involves an apartment building, a sudden black out, a baby carriage and an abandoned parking garage. It’s the kind of fantastique moment you’d expect to see in one of Mario Bava or Dario Argento’s moody giallos and suggests that Lautner was capable of maintaining suspense and conveying mystery as well as horror. It’s just unfortunate that ICY BREASTS doesn’t contain more of these heart-stopping moments. But the movie should satisfy some viewers who enjoy unusual and understated French thrillers with erotic undertones. And some Matheson fans will undoubtedly appreciate getting the opportunity to see the writer’s first novel adapted for the screen even though the director took generous liberties with the source material,

It’s worth noting that Alain Delon and Mireille Darc maintained a romantic relationship off screen for nearly 15 years and appeared in numerous films together. Very few of them have been released in the US but you can currently find ICY BREASTS on DVD from Telavista. Unfortunately the quality of the DVD is abysmal. It’s been dubbed in English, the colors are washed out and the sound occasionally drops out at the most inopportune times. If you’d like to see the film it’s worth splurging on an all-region player and picking up one of the available PAL DVDs which have been released under the original French title, LES SEINS DE GLACE.

Further reading:
- Telefilm Time Machine: The Stranger Within (1974) based on Matheson’s short story Mother by Protest aka Trespass

10 Responses Someone is Bleeding: Les seins de glace (1974)
Posted By Emgee : July 11, 2013 4:08 pm

Shame that they didn’t give the job to Chabrol. I’m sure he would have relished it.

Posted By Gene : July 11, 2013 8:44 pm

I agree. This story sounds just like a Chabrol film. Pity it was wasted, but I guess I had little clue about Matheson’s Pulp Fiction days and that’s great to know.

Posted By Susan Doll : July 12, 2013 11:34 am

On the one hand, the title “Icy Breasts” seems bizarre to me; on the other, it is appropriate for a femme fatale.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 12, 2013 12:45 pm

I wanted to like the film more so when I watched it again for the blogathon I hoped I’d find new things to appreciate but I’m afraid that I only got more frustrated with movie. Mainly because Matheson’s gone now and never had the opportunity to see a really good film adaptation of Someone is Bleeding. As I said above, it could he another VERTIGO in the right directors hands. The book’s got complex characters, suspense and a jaw-dropping action sequence. It’s a shame Hitchcock never got a hold of it. It could have been VERTIGO meets NORTH BY NORTHWEST.

Posted By walt : July 12, 2013 1:11 pm

In fact, after enjoying all the brash and snappy dialogue exchanges in Matheson’s 1953 literary debut you half expect the Crypt Keeper to appear at the end with some kind of funny antidote to lessen the horror of the book’s final chapter but there’s no simple escape from this grim story.

Surely this should be “some kind of funny anecdote”, not its eggcorn “antidote?”

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 12, 2013 1:23 pm

Typos… they happen. Especially when you don’t have an editor.

Posted By Doug : July 12, 2013 2:19 pm

Kimberly,given Hollywood’s desire to remake everything that ever existed on film, especially ‘foreign’ films,I think it’s only a matter of time before they get to “Someone Is Bleeding”. It may be directed by a new wunderkind,starring a ‘Disney Princess’, but it probably will be remade.
“From the author of” is a grabber in pitch meetings, as we learned from watching Altman’s “The Player”:
“Yeah, it’s ‘Somewhere In Time’, see, but we move it to outerspace to make the time machine dingus work. Keanu Reeves is attached, and we have an option for lunch with Selena Gomez, so it’s already in the can!”
Sorry about that-somehow “Bowfinger” forced it’s way into my “The Player” reference.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : July 12, 2013 2:40 pm

Hollywood tends to remake hugely successful foreign films and dumb them down for American viewers so I don’t know if ICY BREASTS would qualify. Without a ‘built-in’ audience modern Hollywood producers would probably find it too risky. At the moment I can’t think of an American director that could do Matheson’s story justice but I’d love to see another French director like Claire Denis take a jab at it. I think she’d understand & appreciate the characters. She also wouldn’t run away from the darker aspects of the story.

Posted By jamesthomson1968 : July 13, 2013 3:52 pm

Reblogged this on The Irregular Blog and commented:
I never knew that about Richard Matheson. The closest I got to that was his suspense classis Duel. When I have the money to start collecting him seriously I will have to check this out.

Posted By swac44 : July 16, 2013 10:04 am

Too bad this version doesn’t pan out, normally French directors have a knack for adapting hardboiled U.S. fiction (Bernard Tavernier’s version of Jim Thompson’s Pop 1280, Coup de Torchon comes to mind), even with a change of locale. Coup de Torchon is transplanted from small town to U.S.A. to colonial Africa without much difficulty.

A similar title I’m trying to get my hands on is the 1967 French film Pillaged, (a.k.a. Mise en Sac), based on the Donald Westlake/Richard Stark novel The Score, but so far I haven’t been able to source a copy. Has anyone out there seen it?

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