There's Always a Price Tag (1957)

Written by John Chard on March 23, 2014

Retour de manivelle (1957)

For whom the ticking clock tolls.

Retour de manivelle (There’s Always a Price Tag) is written and directed by Denys de La Patelliere. It stars Michele Morgan, Daniel Gelin, Michele Mercier, Bernard Blier, Peter van Eyck and Clara Gansard. Music is by Maurice Thiriet and cinematography by Pierre Montazel.

Adapted from James Hadley Chase’s novel, plot finds Robert Mabillon (Gelin) as a struggling artist who saves Eric Freminger (van Eyck) from a drunken suicide attempt, and promptly gets offered employment as a chauffer by way of gratitude. Once back at the Freminger residence, Robert finds Eric is a severely depressed man with a host of problems. And then Helene Freminger (Morgan) arrives on the scene, hostile, suspicious but ever so sultry, it’s the kick-start of events that can only lead to misery – or worse – for all involved.

As the first American film noir cycle was winding down, a band of French film makers were picking up the barely alight torch and pouring petroleum on it, carrying it with some distinction well into the 1960s. Denys de La Patelliere’s Retour de manivelle is a superior piece of French noir, containing all the traits and peccadilloes of its American cousins.

Robert Mabillon instinctively commits a heroic act, his thanks for such a wonderful gesture? Is a kick in the face by fate, where he’s thrust into a muddy film noir infected world of deadly passions, suicide, criminal cover ups and a scam so daring it can only lead to more pain and life altering misery.

Sizzle, sizzle, the bitch is here!

As Eric Freminger’s life collapses by the day, his alcoholism getting to its final death throe stages, Mabillon is ensnared in Helene’s web. When she first slinks into view, brilliantly lighted by Montazel, you just know that Mabillon, and us the viewers, are in hook, line and sinker! She’s a grade “A” fatale of the femme variety, a bitch, as cunning as a cat, her beauty and sexuality weapons of mass male destruction. In one scene she sports a leopard skin coat, it’s as appropriate as appropriate can be. In another she slowly and seductively walks up the stairs, her sly glances tempting the now hapless Mabillon to the point of no return. The addition of housemaid Jeanne (Mercier another Gallic beauty) half way through the piece, advances the story still further, adding more murky depth to the already simmering broth of doom.

So now we have a suicide and an accident!

As the plot thickens, as the tricksy scam at the pic’s core unfurls and plunges all into the hornet’s nest, Patelliere and Montazel prove skilled purveyors of the film noir style. The film is consistently shot with shadowy contrasts or isolated lighting techniques, while for the key speech scene given by Eric Freminger the room is bathed in classic Venetian blind slatted shadows, the position of such adroitly filmed by the makers. This room, the study, is a big player in the film, for there’s a very distinctive ticking clock lending its aural presence to the human interactions, from beginning to the coup de grace, it can be heard, the inference has to be that time is ticking away for the protagonists, the sound department turning the volume up to ensure it means something.

A brilliant French noir that is in desperate need of more exposure, some crude back projection work stops it from being a 10/10 picture, but this is essential for the film noir noirista, both thematically and visually. For whom the ticking clock tolls, indeed. 9/10