Friday, April 26, 2024

Joy House (1964)

René Clément’s Joy House (also released as The Love Cage, original French title Les félins) is based on Day Keene’s delightfully nasty little noir masterpiece Joy House. The movie has plenty of star power thanks to the casting of Alain Delon and Jane Fonda, Delon being a very hot property indeed in France at this time and Fonda a fast-riding star.

Marc (Alain Delon) had been living in New York but had to leave after a misunderstanding with big-time gangster McKean. Marc had seduced the gangster’s wife, after which Marc decided that New York was not a good place for him to be.

He’s back in France but Mob hitmen are after him. He ends up, penniless, in a mission which is largely supported by the eccentric widow Barbara Hill (Lola Albright). Mrs Hill is assisted in her charitable endeavours by her maid Melinda (Jane Fonda). We later find out that Melinda is not exactly her maid.

Marc gets a break when he’s employed by Mrs Hill as a chauffeur. Mrs Hill lives in a large house with just two servants, Melinda and now Marc. Melinda is very excited by the idea of having a man about the house.

Marc is broke but he doesn’t intend to stay that way. He has no concrete plans but ideas are starting to occur to him. Marc is accustomed to taking risks. He’s confident of getting what he wants.

Mrs Hill has an interesting past, particularly insofar as it involves her late husband. She is up to something and it involves Marc. Marc suspects that something is going on in Mrs Hill’s mind but he’s not sure how it could involve him.

Melinda may have plans as well. She certainly plans on getting Marc into bed.

It seems more than possible that Marc and Mrs Hill may end up in bed together as well, although the motivations of each of them have little to do with lust.

There’s a secret concealed in Mrs Hill’s house. It may be a threat to Marc, or it could be something that he can turn to his advantage.

None of these characters could be described as straightforward and honest. There are lies and deceptions and betrayals. They’re playing dangerous games - dangerous to themselves and others. It’s also by no means certain that there are only three players in this game.

Alain Delon is, as always, insanely cool. This is exactly the kind of character he played so well - very cool, possibly sinister, definitely dangerous, very sexy and very aware of his sexual power over women.

Jane Fonda is excellent. Melinda’s motivations are especially mysterious. She probably doesn’t understand them herself. She is however becoming very aware of her sexual power over men.

Lola Albright could easily have been overshadowed by two such major stars but she isn’t. She’s playing a woman who likes to be in control but knows that perhaps she’s not as completely in control as she’d like to be. She’s calculating, but with a certain emotional vulnerability.

There’s a bit of the femme fatale in both women, and quite a bit of the homme fatale in Marc.

This movie could be seen as an early neo-noir, an anticipation of later erotic neo-noirs like Body Heat and Basic Instinct. At the same time there’s a slightly off-kilter absurdist edge to it. It’s almost noir black comedy. It’s a movie about game-playing and the movie itself is a game.

When people think of French cinema in the 60s they tend to think of Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol et al. René Clément is usually dismissed as a relic of the past, and in fact was regarded that way at the time by devotees of the Nouvelle Vague. In fact Clément made a couple of movies in the 60s that are vastly superior to anything done by those Nouvelle Vague directors, including the absolutely superb Purple Noon (Plein Soleil).

Joy House is energetic, witty, playful, sardonic, visually inventive and very stylish. It’s also a great twisted psychosexual melodrama. It’s not quite an out-and-out crime thriller in a conventional sense but there are plenty of characters with criminal intentions. Clément may have been unfashionable at the time but here he’s at the top of his game. Very highly recommended.

Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray offers both English and French language options. It doesn’t matter which you choose. Both Alain Delon and Jane Fonda did their own voices in both languages. I think it’s fascinating that even in French Jane Fonda sounds so very Jane Fonda.

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