On 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!
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 completely 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 the 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 / gardener, 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
Sarde – 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