Friday, 18 July 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1942: Pierre Fresnay in The Murderer Lives at Number 21

Pierre Fresnay did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Inspector Wens in The Murderer Lives At Number 21.

The Murderer Lives At Number 21 is a very entertaining murder mystery about a detective who knows the boarding house where the murderer lives, but does not know who the murderer is.

The Murderer Lives At Number 21 is a bit like the french version of the Thin Man. Both films are murder mysteries with a wide number of suspects, a comedic tone, and a detective who seems to spend just as much time dealing with his off-beat love interest as he does investigating the case. Pierre Fresnay in turn plays the role of Inspector Wens in much the same way that William Powell played Nick Charles in The Thin Man. Fresnay has a real casual demeanor in his performance as he walks along at an leisurely pace even though there is a murderer on the loose. This in turn is seen through his performance as Fresnay always stays quite calm and relaxed all the time, and treats the whole affair as a game, at least in part anyway.  

Fresnay is quite fun in the role actually though and does have that same time of dry delivery that suited William Powell, although Fresnay is a bit less sardonic in style. Fresnay has the same type of charm that is rather unassuming but so perfectly fitting in his creation of the assured detective. Fresnay makes Inspector Wens properly likable with his charm, and his attitude never seems distant rather it simply creates the right relaxed tone for the picture. Fresnay manner also allows him to play well off of Wens's opera singer girlfriend Mila (Suzy Delair) who is rather flamboyant in nature. Fresnay honestly makes Delair's performance work much more, by his manner of downplaying his part, and giving some rather funny reactions to some of her absurdity. 

All of it is not fun and games though as technically Wens does need to find a murderer which means going to the boarding house and interviewing each resident to find the culprit. Fresnay keeps the same tone even as the bodies start piling up but he does so in a convincing fashion. In his scenes of examination Fresnay oozes the right intelligence along with the wit in the character. Every line he delivers he brings the right incisive and piercing quality and he illustrates that Wens's relaxed attitude is actually part of his method of keeping the crooks off guard. Fresnay carefully never seems to aloof to the point that he seems that the murders don't matter, there is a substance that Fresnay subtly brings this in some key reactions, and he cleverly brings the dramatic weight well still being so eloquently lighthearted.

Pierre Fresnay makes Inspector Wens a great protagonist for a mystery. It's so easy to follow him through the mystery to its end by creating the necessary tone for the film creating an enjoyable story, but Fresnay goes further than that in making his own performance just enjoyable to watch all on his own. Fresnay is very entertaining throughout but my favorite scene of his is when he uncovers the culprit but not in the best of ways. It leaves Wens to distract the killer by delaying although this seems technically hard to believe its actually completely works because of the way Fresnay controls the scene so completely and so brilliantly. It's a marvelous scene for Fresnay and it shows how good Fresnay is at the role. Unlike the Thin Man, The Murderer Lives At Number 21 was a single effort without any sequels, which is a bit unfortunate as Fresnay made Inspector Wens such delightful company that I would not have mined seeing him on another investigation.

25 comments:

luke higham said...

Louis: Have you seen anything new recently.

Louis Morgan said...

I have seen Locke and Dawn of the Planets of the Apes.

Kevin said...

What are your thoughts on the films? And will Hardy get a review?

luke higham said...

Ratings & Thoughts on the cast of DOTPOTA.

luke higham said...

Louis: I see you've upgraded Bogart to a 4.5 for Casablanca. Can I have your reason why.

Michael McCarthy said...

I think Serkis and Kebbell are worthy of reviews.

Louis Morgan said...

Kevin: Locke was a terrific one man show, and Hardy is extremely likely to be in the alternate line up.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was a pretty strong sci-fi film with some particularly great action and imagery. Although I do think the human characters could have been better drawn almost everything with the apes was very compelling.

Luke:

Only review the humans as I might as well leave the option open for Serkis and Kebbell.

Clarke - 3(Very close to only a 2.5. Clarke is actually completely solid in the role he just has so little to work as the role of just an honest joe)

Russell and Smit-McPhee - 2.5(Same boat as Clarke. They both are more than fine, but just have a bit too little to do)

Oldman - 3.5(I was rather surprised that he wasn't a villain. He too suffered from being extremely underwritten and has very little screentime, but I still felt he made the strongest impact out of the humans. Oldman brought the conviction needed for the part, and did very well to make you understand his character as man. I really wish he had been given more to do)

As for Bogart I was not sure about my rating even when I reviewed him, and with every re-watch his performance has improved for me.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

The more I think about Kebbell, the more I like the way he played Koba. The voice he chose was even more animalistic than Serkis's.

Michael McCarthy said...

He could've been completely one-note, but he really made the intensions behind the character's insanity known.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I know. I was shocked how his character actually had an arc from loyal ally to sadistic traitor. I was not expecting that at all.

Anonymous said...

Well written review as always! Can I have your ratings and thoughts on:
-Shirley Knight in Sweet Bird of Youth
-Thelma Ritter in Birdman of Alcaltraz
-Mary Badham in To Kill a Mockingbird
-Gladys Cooper in The Song of Bernadette
-Ethel Barrymore in The Paradine Case

Anonymous said...

What are your ratings and thoughts on Miranda Otto in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King?

RatedRStar said...

Wow, looks like I need to see both Dawn, and Murderer Lives, it helps that I like murder mysteries =D.

RatedRStar said...

Can I ask Louis, was the mystery easy to solve for you in Murderer or was it tricky, because I found the Thin Man quite tricky to figure out the murderer, and my prediction was wrong at the end (its sequel was very easy though to guess and I am sure ull know what I mean if urve seen it lol)

JackiBoyz said...

@RatedRStar: What are your ratings for all of Joaquin Phoenix's performances that you have seen.

RatedRStar said...

@JackiBoyz:

Parenthood - 3
To Die For - 3.5
Quills - 3
Gladiator - 3
Signs - 2.5
The Village - 2.5
Hotel Rwanda - 2.5
Walk The Line - 2.5
We Own The Night - 4.5
Two Lovers - 4.5
The Master - 5
Her - 5

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: I thought you originally hated the shit out of Phoenix's performance in The Master.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

Knight - 3(She's completely fine whenever she is on screen in that she seems exactly as she should be. She never goes further than that as I pretty much forgot about her whenever she was no on-screen or being directly talked about)


Ritter - 2.5(Probably one of the least lively performances from Ritter that I have seen. I suppose that fits in that this is not one of her sassy characters but just a mother trying to save her son. Even with that sad her performance is fairly bland, and brings very little poignancy to the part)

Badham - 3(Out of three child actors she is easily the weakest in the film. She does fall into the child actor trap too often which is an overemphasis on her delivery, and never realizes the full potential of Scout as a character. She's not terrible and gets along well enough in the film as she still has some decent chemistry with Alford and Peck)

Cooper - 4(A fairly limited in performance in that she just shows up like three times to be very cold toward Jones's Bernadette. Cooper manages to make an impact with that as she is really quite good at just being such a frigid loveless person)

Barrymore - 2.5(I have no idea what the point of her character was or the point of her subplot was especially since the film seemed to forget about it by the end. She's okay I guess, but there's barely a character written to begin with)

Anonymous:

Otto - 3(I think she's fine in, as that doppelganger said, she delivers the needed passion for the part. I only feel she goes far enough with role, but never does more than just enough. She never goes further in the way Bernard Hill and Sean Bean managed to in their roles)

RatedRStar: The mystery was actually pretty tricky.

Anonymous said...

Is Simone Signoret leading or supporting in Ship of Fools? If supporting, is she your pick?

RatedRStar said...

@Luke: Multiple viewings changed that.

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

She's supporting so I guess she's my pick actually.

Matt Mustin said...

Louis, what are your ratings and thoughts on:
Charles Grodin and Robert De Niro in Midnight Run
Bain Beohlke in Fargo (who I don't even remember)

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Can you give your ratings on the cast of Dogville? And thoughts on Kidman, Bettany, Caan, Skarsgaard and Clarkson?

Louis Morgan said...

Grodin and De Niro - 4.5(What an surprisingly great duo make. Grodin is incredibly in the early scenes as the somewhat of a weasel accountant. He balances out a certain pompousness with some humor, but with just enough substance. De Niro shows just how much he has been phoning it in on similar roles though as he proves himself extremely capable as a comedic action hero. They are great together, and make Midnight Run just one really fun film)

Beohlke - 4(He's the guy who tells the story about Buscemi which he does with his hilariously deadpan delivery. I find when he quotes Carl with "Yah, that guy's dead, and I don't mean of old age" particularly funny)

Louis Morgan said...

Robert:

I'm pretty sure I have covered the other before.

Skarsgaard - 3.5(Skarsgaard is always pro at playing some particularly cruel and pessimistic characters, and that certainly is the case here)

Clarkson - 4(An effective turn that gives a great deal of intensity to rather interestingly only weakness frailty)