Drink nor Death will Burst this Claude Chabrol Bubble of Murder and Wealth.



There’s a lilting royal blue and gold grandeur adorning the isolated wealth-saturated world of director Claude Chabrol’s The Champagne Murders.  This 1967 plunge into blind opulence is about as dryly cynical as a film can get without outwardly showing its hand.  Former French New Waver Chabrol, in this lone American studio effort (with English-speaking actors, but dubbed into English) never once posts any kind of mission statement.  Rather, he locks us into an ornate bed chamber (so to speak) with several of the rich characters, all navigating the strangely desperate self-preservation of the one percent.  For some, it proves fatale.  For all, it proves futile.

The film soaks mercilessly in the crusty drudgery of upper-class dullards for nearly all of its first hour- an exercise that is no less trying despite the fact that two of the main characters, a couple of loose cannon playboys, played by Anthony Perkins and Maurice Ronet, feel the same way.  Ho hum, another lifeless party with the respectable geriatric set…  

As far as “Champagne Murders” go, this movie is a whole lot more of the former rather than the latter. A great deal of it is the family struggle over their France-based major multimillion-dollar champagne business.  One good-for-nothing family member (Ronet, playing full-on alcoholic, splashing his drink around in a masterbatory manner everywhere he goes) owns the name of the company while a far more enterprising family member (Yvonne Furneaux) owns literally everything else about it. It drives her utterly crazy, though he’s the one who starts awakening from blackouts with dead women he presumably killed.  The movie that ultimately results is a warped portrait of obsession, determination, ignorance, just how deranged and immoral these people can be.

In his “Trailers from Hell” segment, which is included here as an extra, film historian Tim Hunter points out that although Chabrol is often referred to as “the French Hitchcock“, there’s very little to suggest that the filmmaker copped Hitchcock the way that, say, De Palma has. That said, De Palma might be the first subsequent director that comes to mind when looking at the last third of The Champagne Murders.  That’s the level of director-induced derangement that is indulged in.

The Champagne Murders is one of those movies that is better in retrospect than it is while you’re first watching it.  That’s a compliment, although put forth begrudgingly. You see, neither by the standards of Chabrol’s own career (in which this was never considered a major work) nor within the broader range of the psychological thriller genre, is the movie that good.  It’s a curio awaiting discovery for some, for certain.  Highlights include Perkins’s halfway pervy hey-diddle-whatever slickster performance, and the director’s pointedly controlled and intentional use of color.  Lowlights are the awkward voice dubbing and the editorial inability to match action throughout the film.  

The Champagne Murders fits in well among Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ ever-expanding array of misfit movies.  The release is a good one, boasting the film’s own trailer, the aforementioned “Trailers from Hell” assessment, and an on-fire commentary track by Film Historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson.  (Seriously, there’s not a dull moment in listening to these guys expertly detail this thing).  The sound is excellent, playing up the moody score by regular Chabrol composer Pierre Jansen, though the visual transfer is merely “decent”.  (Sometimes it just looks to 1967, aged and a little faded). 

For a movie with “Champagne” in the title, this off-kilter whodunnit is not a bit bubbly.  For a movie with “Murders” in its title, it doesn’t exactly kill.  And yet, by the end, one may find one’s self unexpectedly appreciating its fairly unique tastes and textures- some of which may just linger undyingly, slowly piercing one’s senses of ordinary cinematic taste.