Director: Georges Franju
Arrow Academy

In between EYES WITHOUT A FACE and JUDEX, George Franju tackled the old dark house thriller with black humor in SPOTLIGHT ON A MURDERER on Blu-ray/DVD combo from Arrow Academy.

The heirs of the Count Hervé de Kerloquen (Pierre Brasseur, GOTO: ISLE OF LOVE) are summoned to the family castle by the Count's attorney (Robert Vattier, DANGEROUS GAMES) who informs them that the Count has disappeared. Based on the results of his last medical exam, the Count is most certainly no longer among the living but can only legally be considered absent so long as there is no body, and that it will be at least five years before his heirs can collect their inheritance. In the meantime, they must maintain the castle and pay the property taxes themselves on top of their own debts since they cannot even borrow against their inheritance. The eight cousins decide that their best bet to raise money would be to open the chateau to the public. When medical student Jean-Marie (Jean-Louis Trintignant, DEATH LAID AN EGG) tells his straight-talking fiancée Micheline (Dany Saval, BOEING BOEING) – who he secretly meets by night on the grounds since she is below his social station – about the family legend of a thirteenth-century knight who murdered his unfaithful wife Eliane's lover causing her to throw herself from the tower, Micheline gives him the idea to stage a son et lumière show depicting the legend with sound effects, narration, and spotlights to direct the eyes of the audience across the grounds to invisible footsteps and hoof beats. While wastrel cousin Christian (Jean Babilée, DUELLE) is tasked with writing the script, appointed curator Guillaume (Jean Ozenne, FANTOMAS VS SCOTLAND YARD) mounts a search for the rumored hidden room used by the Knights of Malta where the Count's body is believed to reside, Henri (Gérard Buhr, BOB THE GAMBLER) sees to the electronics, young widow Edwige (Marianne Koch, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS) sadistically teases groom Yvan (Serge Marquand, BLOOD AND ROSES), and sensitive Jeanne (Pascale Audret, THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY) is in the middle of a love triangle with her violently jealous husband Claude (Georges Rollin, THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS) and cousin André (Philippe Leroy, THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN). The electrocution death of Henri while repairing one of the spotlights seems like an accident, and the murder of one of Jeanne's men seems like a crime of passion, but a voice beckons Jeanne towards fulfilling Eliane's part in the legend and someone sabotage's Edwige's saddle knowing that she frequently goes out riding alone. The remaining family members realize that it is just as likely that one of them is the killer as it is that there might be someone else lurking the halls of the chateau.

Blackly comic yet still very suspenseful and occasionally shocking, SPOTLIGHT ON A MURDERER is a high-tech (for the time) take on the old dark house formula with the cousins gathered in the control room where they have set up the audio equipment for the guided tours and the son et lumière show as motion detectors indicate another presence passing from room to room as the two-way speakers pick up sinister footsteps while a rocking chair in an empty room suggest a less-than-corporeal intruder. Everyone behaves suspiciously, with Trintignant depending on his handsome but also shifty features more than furtive looks or movements to suggest that he might be behind things (although even he is surprised to discover that Micheline has set up lodgings in one of the castle's out of the way chambers and has been conducting investigations of her own). The score of Maurice Jarre (FATAL ATTRACTION) is playful, while director Georges Fanju, working from a script by famed French crime novelists Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac who had previously scripted LES DIABOLIQUES as well as Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE, and cinematographer Marcel Fradetal (JUDEX) – making wonderful use of the 1.37:1 frame in width and depth – largely favor the poetic over the gruesome, with enough levity and plot turns to keep things from getting too overfamiliar.

Derived from a 2013 Gaumont 2K restoration of a 4K scan, SPOTLIGHT ON A MURDERER looks exquisite in Arrow's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.37:1 pillarboxed fullscreen Blu-ray (the DVD is also pillarboxed) with deep blacks, and highlights that largely favor grays over whites given the misty establishing shots of the lake-bound castle, day-for-night shots in the woods, the rugged brick exterior and lush authentic furnishings of the fifteenth century Château de Goulaine's interiors. The sole audio option is a French LPCM 1.0 mono track that crisply conveys the dialogue, scoring, and important use of offscreen sound effects (both in the son et lumière show and as indicators to the surviving family members of dread at the absence of others or the presence of another). Optional English subtitles translate the witty dialogue as well as some important quotations and song lyrics throughout.

Besides the film's trailer (3:33), the disc also includes an episode from the program "Le Courrier du Cinéma" (27:12) from 1960 in which Franju discusses how the film differs from EYES WITHOUT A FACE – the former a "terror film" rather than horror film – and his common interest in the genres being poetry rather than suspense. He also discusses the story and his choice of the film's fifteenth century chateau for its visual appeal versus a more forbidding edifice as well as the social aspect of aristocratic decadence. Also featured are Audret commenting on her tragic roles thus far, Brasseur on working in both the theatre and cinema, Koch on her decision to leave medical school for acting (she had already made roughly forty films by the time of SPOTLIGHT), Trintignant on his character as well as his interest in the technical side of filmmaking, and Saval on playing humorous and straight-talking roles and her desire for more challenging parts. Not supplied for review are the reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain and the booklet featuring new writing on the film by Chris Fujiwara included with the first pressing only. (Eric Cotenas)