Les Seins de glace (1974) – Tuesday’s Forgotten Film

Matheson-Seins-de-glace-posterOn Friday I reviewed Richard Matheson’s debut novel Someone is Bleeding (click here to read it), a pretty decent whodunit spiced up with some less convincing post-war cod Freudian psychologising. The novel was filmed in France and released there in 1974, where it appeared under the provocative title already used for the local edition of the book, Les Seins de glace. This means literally ‘breasts of ice’ (it certainly loses something in translation) but was in fact released in some territories under the execrable title, Icy Breasts! In adapting it for the screen, writer-director Georges Lautner made some crucial changes and also several improvements too.

The following review is offered as part of the Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his Sweet Freedom blog and you should head over there to see the many other fascinating titles that have been selected. I also submit it for the 2013 Book to Movie Challenge at the Doing Dewey – blog for links to the other participants’ reviews, click here.

Les Seins de glace stars Mireille Darc as troubled widow Peggy with her then off-screen partner Alain Delon as her lawyer Jim (or rather, ‘Marc Rilson’) while budding novelist Dave becomes ‘François Rollin’ (Claude Brasseur) with the action relocated to Nice in the south of France. Despite these cosmetic changes the film, as written and directed by Georges Lautner, follows the book pretty closely, starting with Dave and Peggy’s meeting on the beach one morning, though being that this is a bit more European and chic she is not wearing a one-piece bathing costume but rather thigh-high leather boots and a fur coat!

seinsdeglace01g

Delon, who here plays the villain of the piece (presumably part of a determined attempt to enlarge his repertoire as he was also the co-producer), is very good as Jim, conveying his charm and dangerous obsession with Peggy very well. Darc is certainly beautiful and enigmatic as the femme fatale, though clearly older and more sophisticated than Peggy is meant to be in the book. Brasseur would have been complete miscast as ‘Dave’ as depicted in the novel, being both too old and worldly-wise to portray Matheson’s naive and callow narrator. Which is presumably why the character has been re-written as a jocular middle-aged TV hack whose early pursuit of Peggy is a bit more aggressive and comical, such as when he  lies down in front of her car and refuses to move unless she gives him her phone number. In other words this is much more in the vein of ‘meeting cute’ in the Hollywood sense. Brasseur plays his role with a light and semi-comic tone for the first half of the film, so that when he drops into the psychodrama being created by Delon, who wants to keep Peggy to himself despite being already married and the piling up of several bodies, he feels completely apart from it, which is a smart move as it makes it easier for us to look at the events objectively and in a more naturalistic mode through ther eyes of the outsider. In furtherance of this, it is also a good idea to remove the pre-existing rivalry between the two men – in Matheson it always felt like too much of a coincidence that the two old University friends should fall for the same unlikely woman. Delon’s character is now the scion of a wealthy old family while Brasseur just an interloper, making the lawyer even more powerful and our hero even more powerless. Who will win Peggy’s heart and who will survive to the end credits?

Lautner makes several other intelligent modifications along the way: Peggy’s landlord / gardner, Harold,  now answers directly to Delon, as do other people around town, further justifying her paranoia. Another strong change comes in the funfair sequence, which has been replaced with an extended suspense set-piece set in a dark building that is very well put together. The one thing that is very different is the decision, halfway though the film, to let viewers in on ‘whodunit’ with the murder of Harold (scissors are used rather than an ice pick), which is a slightly strange choice one might think – but it does amp up the dark romance, which perhaps is no bad thing. The climax to the story heads to snowy peaks rather than the Tijuana of the novel and thankfully excises Matheson’s absurd and passé musings on rape.

DVD Availability: The version of the film dubbed into English is available in the UK as a region 2 PAL DVD under the French title but using a pretty atrocious transfer, probably taken from a very old VHS master. But you can just about see and hear what is happening so for references purposes it suffices. It is available in France in a technically much more impressive remastered version that also sports some extras, including a profile of the film’s composer Philippe Matheson-Icy-Breasts-coverSarde – the downside is that it is only presented in the original language without any foreign subtitles.

Someone is Bleeding / Les Seins de glace (1974)
Director: Georges Lautner
Producer: Raymond Danon (and Alain Delon)
Screenplay: Georges Lautner (from Richard Matheson’s novel)
Cinematography: Maurice Fellous
Art Direction: Jean André
Music: Philippe Sarde
Cast: Alain Delon, Mireille Darc, Claude Brasseur, Fiore Altoviti, Emilio Messina, Nicoletta Machiavelli

***** (3 fedora tips out of 5)

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13 Responses to Les Seins de glace (1974) – Tuesday’s Forgotten Film

  1. Sergio – I’m glad you thought this a solid film even if it does take liberties with the characterisations. And as you so aptly point out, some of the changes do make some sense. I suppose films are like that. At any rate, I just have one thing to say about that translated title: Really? Really? *sigh*

    • Really terrible title – I couldn’t bring myself to use it – it’s not quite so bad in French and has some literary linkage in the Lady Macbeth / ‘colder than a witch’s teat’ type phrase but – yes, ugh is the main response I had to it. The film itself is worthwhile however. No idea if anyone out there apart from me has bothered to see it of course, but that’s the curse of a film buff! Thanks as always for the great feedback Margot.

  2. Patti Abbott says:

    I had a huge crush on Alain Delon once upon a time. Those eyes!

    • He’s had an amazing career if truth be told and he is very impressive here and his scenes with the fascinating Darc do, I think, show evidence of their off-screen rapport (I think they worked together in at least a dozen films over the decades).
      Delon & Darc

  3. Colin says:

    I always thought Delon was pretty good in thrillers and wouldn’t mind seeing this one. It’s a pity that the DVD editions available are unsatisfactory for different reasons. I suppose it’s possible to marry the soundtrack and image from the different versions (or download subs and do the same) but that would involve a fair bit of hassle.

    • It would be a bit too much trouble for me – I don;t want to knock the DVD too much – it’s faded and looks like VHS and the opening and closing titles are awful in the way early telecines for home video used to be – the main body of the film is prefectly acceptable. I saw dozens of hsi films growing up, always duvved in italian – hard to believe he’ll be 80 soon …

      • Colin says:

        Ah, maybe worth a punt then.

        I also seem to have seen a lot of Delon’s movies dubbed, into English though. You’re right that it is a little startling to think he’s nearing 80. He’s been around the movies a long time of course, but he always looked and seemed younger than his years.

        • For a tough guy actor he does have this very feminine look that seems to have always helped to make him appear younger than his years, though he has clearly had quite a bit of surgery more recently too. Brilliant casting as the screen’s first ‘Ripley’. The BBC used to show THE SICILIAN CLAN quite often as I recall – the good old days indeed …

  4. piero says:

    Good movie The Clan of the Sicilians!
    I liked very Lino Ventura.
    Have you seen “Cadaveri eccellenti”, di Francesco Rosi? One of the involved films by L.Ventura. A little as “The Amerikano” by Costa Gavras with Yves Montand.
    About French films of the crime, the best directors (after years of Chabrol and Clouzot) were, in my opinion, Henri Verneuil, and Olivier Marshal.
    Lino Ventura, Romy Schneider and Michel Serrault, interpreted together one of the finest French films, Garde à vue, in 1981 directed by Claude Miller, based on the novel “Brainwash”, by John Wainwright. A very dramatic film, fulminant. There was a remake with Gene Hackman (excellent in the role that was portentous by Serrault) and Morgan Freeman, in 2000, “Under Suspicion”.
    A proposito Sergio, Una buona tazza di tè (The Case of the Dead Shepherd / The Tea Tray Murders) di Christopher Bush, l’hai letto? E’ uscito in quella collana del Corriere della Sera, sabato scorso, a 6.90 euro. Un prezzaccio in italia (non so da voi..). Se non lo hai letto te lo metto da parte.

    • I used to watch a lot of these films in the 70s and 80s when I was in Italy Piero, which is probably why I enjoy going back to them now but it’s a shame when you can’t just come across them on TV anymore. I agree though, Verneuil made lots of great movies – in the UK Melville is one of the few genre directors of that generation to get any respect really. You can find my review of Garde à vue from just 3 weeks ago right here.

      Meglio non metter niente da parte per me Piero, davvero, perche sto per smettere col blog per almeno un mese (o due o …). Le recensioni che sto pubblicando adesso le ho scritte un paio do mesi fa, figurati. Ne ho ancora un po messe da parte ma semplicemente no ho piu’ il tempo. Ti ringrazio per l’offerta, davvero, ma sarebbe uno spreco – grazie comunque.

  5. Nice job, as always, Sergio. The film certainly doesn’t have a big following, and Matheson didn’t think too much of it (he had largely forgotten it when I asked him about it), yet you are quite right when you say that it not only is largely faithful to the book but also makes some improvements, especially removing the coincidence of the Delon/Brasseur backstory. And my wife, for one, will attest to Delon’s being eminently watchable, particularly back then! In short, I think you gave this admittedly imperfect film much more respect than it would have gotten from many other critics. As for the title, I’m inured to it after having been aware of the film for so long, and similarly was grateful to have even my crummy VHS version (dubbed in English but also with what appear to be Dutch subtitles), else I’d never have been able to write the appropriate chapter for my book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN. Heck, for all I know, the DVD might even be an improvement! :-)

  6. Pingback: 2013 Book to Movie Challenge – completed | Tipping My Fedora

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