Color, 1967, 107m. / Directed by François Truffaut / Starring Jeanne Moreau, Michel Bouquet / MGM (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1)

After years of his oft-stated devotion to the films of Alfred Hitchcock, French director François Truffaut finally got around to directing an unabashed homage to the master in 1967 with The Bride Wore Black (La mariée était en noir). This grim ode to thwarted love and revenge reunited Truffaut with his Jules and Jim muse, Jeanne Moreau, who effectively transformed into an avenging angel fueled by the same romantic passions of the filmmaker's other protagonists. After being prevented from hurling herself out of a window, the beautiful but grief-stricken Julie Kohler (Moreau) attends a social gathering where she makes the acquaintance of a debonair middle-aged man... and promptly shoves him off the balcony. We then follow Julie as she gradually insinuates herself into the lives of four other men, including a stint as a babysitter for the married Michael Lonsdale (Moonraker) and the Artemis figure model of romantically inclined artist Jean-Claude Braily. However, as increasingly elaborated flashbacks reveal, Julie's motives are far more complicated than simple homicide. Her beloved husband, the only man in her life since childhood, was shot down on the wedding steps immediately after their wedding, and now she intends to seek revenge against those responsible. The method in which she accomplishes her mission, however, proves that love is indeed a strange and often dangerous force.

Despite the essentially downbeat subject matter, Truffaut keeps the film light and enjoyable thanks to his usual quirky supporting characters (including his trademark skill with child actors), a deliciously macabre score by the renowned Bernard Herrmann (his second for the director after Fahrenheit 451, though they clashed over this project), and the compelling presence of Moreau, who uses her elegance and marvelously expressive face to compensate for the fact that she's clearly too old for the part. The screenplay by Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard (Breathless) was derived from a novel by Cornell Woolrich (under the pen name of William Irish), who also provided the original short story used for Rear Window. Truffaut twists the plotline severely to conform to his own cinematic sensibilities, including a completely different resolution. (Note: spoilers ahead!) Woolrich's novel pulls a chilling reversal by revealing that Julie has been tracking down and murdering completely innocent parties, while the bridegroom's death was in fact caused by a different and highly unlikely character omitted from the film. Truffaut's alternative is, in its own way, just as diabolical and in some respects more satisfying, with an ingenious final shot (and sound effect) providing the perfect punctuation. MGM's irresistibly low-priced DVD of The Bride Wore Black is obviously derived from the same master used for their previous widescreen laserdisc edition. Fortunately the original transfer was quite satisfying, and the DVD looks roughly one video generation better in comparison. It also sports the added bonus of removable (and extremely large!) white English subtitles, as well as optional French and Spanish subtitles. Image quality is generally smooth, colourful, and pleasing, with print damage kept to a minimum. The two channel mono audio sounds robust enough, with the combination of Herrmann's score and Vivaldi interludes rendered with all of their musical nuances intact. The DVD also includes the hysterically lurid United Artists theatrical trailer, which makes this look like some kind of sexy spy thriller.

Color, 1969, 122m. / Directed by François Truffaut / Starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, Catherine Deneuve / MGM (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1)

After a brief addition to the world of his alter ego Antoine Doinel with Stolen Kisses, François Truffaut returned to Hitchcock country with Mississippi Mermaid (La sirène du Mississippi). Like The Bride Wore Black, the film was adapted from a Cornell Woolrich novel, Waltz into Darkness (remade in 2001 as Original Sin with Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas). Despite the title, there are no mermaids, Mississippian or otherwise; instead it's back to the familiar territory of amour fou with the usual deadly consequences. On the isolated island of Reunion, tobacco plantation owner Louis Mahe (Jean-Paul Belmondo) eagerly greets his new bride, Julie Roussel (Catherine Deneuve), with whom he has been corresponding by mail. Though she doesn't really look like the girl in the photographs he has received, Louis carries on with their prompt wedding and finds her a very receptive bride. Unfortunately, their connubial bliss is shattered when Julie vanishes, taking all of Louis' money along with her. Armed with a pistol and recovering from a nervous breakdown, Louis hunts her down and discovers the woman he loves is actually someone else entirely. Louis reestablishes his relationship with the beautiful siren, but his willingness to go along with her dangerous impulses proves to have an unnaturally high price.

As with his previous Woolrich adaptation, Truffaut altered the book's more fatalistic ending in favor of a more complicated, enigmatic resolution which forces the audience to fill in the story's blanks. Critics at the time were lukewarm at best towards this film, no doubt in part thanks to United Artists' decision to hack away 13 vital minutes (including an exceptional fireside conversation between Deneuve and Belmondo). Time has been kind, however, and Mermaid (whose incongruous name comes from Belmondo's boat) stands as a work as emotionally rich and satisfying as the director's other 1960s films. While Belmondo is excellent as always, Deneuve fans in particular will enjoy seeing one of the world's most beautiful women going through a wide variety of physical transformations, from demure and innocent bride to a gaudy showgirl to a cold-hearted predator. Regardless of her demeanor from scene to scene, she's always a pleasure to watch and makes a most alluring femme fatale. Mississippi Mermaid was Truffaut's first (and final) film in scope after 1961's Jules and Jim, and his use of the wide framing is essential to understanding the psychological interactions of the characters. Like the previous laserdisc edition, MGM's DVD retains the original aspect ratio and does an adequate job of capturing the difficult colour schemes, consisting primarily of brown, orange, and gold. The location shooting and strangely lit interiors result in more film grain than most home viewers would probably prefer, but this film will never look too slick and polished. The source material (from the uncut European prints struck for a limited reissue in the early '90s) contains some distracting nicks and scratches during the first reel, but overall the presentation is acceptable if not outstanding. The optional white subtitles in English, Spanish, or French appear in the lower letterbox band and are much larger than the laserdisc subs. The DVD also contains the excellent UA theatrical trailer, narrated by none other than Rod Serling.

Mondo Digital Reviews Mondo Digital Links Frequently Asked Questions