Journal Of A Crime, 1934. 4/10

A Parisian love triangle turns deadly. Francoise Moilet (Ruth Chatterton) kills her playwright husband Paul’s (Adolphe Menjou’s) mistress, actress Odette (Claire Dodd). Even though there’s a convenient fall-guy, bank robber Costelli (Noel Madison), it’s pretty clear that Paul knows that his wife did it–he finds his own revolver at the scene. He’s also clued in by the fact that she acts so skittish before the killing. “Fiend” he repeats to her; she admits it. He goes on to state “It’s you that I wish were dead!”

She’s incredibly histrionic “If you call the police I shall kill myself.” Anyway, as the title indicates, he starts to keep a journal. She tells him she intends to go away for a while, but quickly changes her mind. Sort of amusingly, he takes in Odette’s dog. Now she writes in the journal; why not just write a confession?

At a theatre party, all of Paul’s cronies toast Francoise. Having either drunk too much, or purely through guilt, she starts to hallucinate that Odette’s there. Anyway, the couple goes home; she’s got the stoniest look on her. He reads that Costelli is sentenced to death. Feeling guilty enough, she goes to the police, wanting permission to see Costelli. She confesses to him; but he doesn’t really care. That’s because he knows he’s still going to be condemned for killing the bank clerk; so he more or less let’s her off the hook.

The newspaper headlines mark major plot points–in the morning Francoise reads that the execution has taken place. Which triggers another trance-like hallucinatory episode. In ultra-guilt mode, she calls the Attorney General, Cartier (Douglass Dumbrille). Well, opportunity knocks again. On her way to see Cartier, she redeems herself by saving a boy from getting crunched by a truck; she gets hit instead. The doctor tells Paul that Francoise has lost her memory. Well, among other things, Paul will have to “teach her the history of France.” Hmm, a tutor will do, I guess. So that’s it.

I read the original New York Times review of Journal Of A Crime, and it perfectly captures the effect of the absurd plot angles. Actually, Costelli’s role is interesting. If the plot had focused on Francoise’s moral dilemma posed by the unjust assumption that Costelli murdered both people, then the movie might’ve been much more cohesive. Not too mention salvaging even a thread to suspend disbelief.

The weirdest thing is, for all of the self-scrutiny that Francoise subjects herself to, she literally gets away with murder. The most intriguing bit is Costelli’s nonchalance about taking the blame for Odette; he even sees it as a kind of victory over ‘the system.’ His moral equation seems to be: two murderers, one’s executed, one goes free, not a bad deal. Also, since all we see is a hand with a gun, we don’t really know who killed Odette. Costelli has no motive whatsover to kill her.

In fact, it’s ridiculous that the police would even think that he did. It’s obvious that he ducked into the theater to hide, not to be found out. Plus, there’s the little matter of the gun. Why was it still sitting there in the pail for Paul to grab? Is he the only one who can see it? Still, with these slight plot holes, things might have hung together without the saving-the-kid redemption, and, especially, the completely heaven-sent gift of Francoise’s amnesia. If she had simply died, that would at least be a rough sort of justice; equivalent, perhaps, to the gratuitous amount of guilt attached to Costelli.

Having raked over the plot, I can’t find much to like in the characters, either. Odette is a demanding manipulator, Francoise is so dead-pan, when she’s not manic, and Paul is just a cold fish. The dog had more personality than the three of them put together. Although the dinner with the German-speaking characters adds some continental flair, it’s mostly obvious that the film is shot on sets. Nothing wrong with sets, but, it has such a generic look; with different place names, it could be any city.

Farmermouse thought that Costelli’s Mercedes roadster was swell, so he gives this four gendarme’s caps. 4/10.

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