It opens with a murder on a train heading for Switzerland. Then Bruno Kerrien (Roger Hanin), who claims to be an advertising man, meets Hubert de Ronsac (François Moro-Giafferi) and his pretty cousin Marie-Chantal (Marie Laforêt) in the dining car. Bruno gets jumpy when he realises he is being watched. He asks Marie-Chantal to do him a favour. He wants her to hold on to a piece of jewellery for him for a day or two. The jewel is a blue panther with ruby eyes.
Marie-Chantal senses some kind of intrigue here and that sounds like fun so she agrees.
Later on the ski slopes she encounters reporter who tells her he is in Switzerland in pursuit of a story about international espionage. She guesses that the blue panther is involved.
There are all sorts of shady characters at the hotel. And pretty soon there’s a murder. And Marie-Chantal makes a dying man a promise.
She now realises that she’s playing a dangerous game but she’s kind of excited. At least having people chasing you and tying to kill you isn’t boring.
Plus there’s Olga (Stéphane Audran). She could be working for Dr Kha or she could be a freelancer. And Paco (Francisco Rabal). We have no idea what his affiliation might be. He seems like a good guy but it would be dangerous to jump to conclusions.
Marie Laforêt really dominates the movie in an effortless fashion. It’s an odd detached performance but it’s intriguing.
This is a strange movie. It seems on the surface to belong to the eurospy genre but it doesn’t really. It’s more like Chabrol was embarrassed by having to make such a movie so he decided to approach it in an off-kilter mocking sort of way. It never develops the energy or the sense of fun that you expect in a eurospy movie. There is some violence but there are no action set-pieces. There’s no suspense. It’s the sort of movie you’d get if you asked an intellectual who despises spy movies to make a spy movie.
Trans-Europ-Express instead. It’s a much better and much more enjoyable movie than Blue Panther and it’s cleverer and wittier as well.
Blue Panther often gets compared to Joseph Losey’s Modesty Blaise, made a year later. You could say it’s Modesty Blaise without the crazy outrageous fun elements.
As a spy movie or a spy spoof Blue Panther just doesn’t spark.
Of course Chabrol was not trying to make a spy movie, and he was not trying to make a spy spoof. He wasn’t interested in telling anything even resembling a coherent story. He was trying to deconstruct the genre and turn it inside out and make a movie about movies so if you’re looking for a spy movie you’ve picked the wrong movie.
Whether you enjoy this movie or not depends on whether you’re prepared to accept it for what it is. If so you’ll probably enjoy the game that Chabrol is playing, assuming that you like those sorts of cinematic games. Blue Panther is recommended if you’re a fan of this sort of thing. If such cinematic games are not your thing then you’ll be extremely bored.
Kino Lorber’s DVD provides a very nice transfer and there’s an audio commentary with Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson.