Saturday, January 28, 2017

Rider on the Rain (1970)

          Beyond his well-known success as a tight-lipped action star in American films, Charles Bronson had an extensive career in a wider variety of pictures made outside the U.S., only a few of which did as well on American screens as they did overseas. Rider on the Rain is a good example. A mystery-thriller with romantic elements, the movie was made in France and scored a major success there, but it made little impact during its original American release and has not been extensively distributed on home video. To a certain degree, the film’s American obscurity is understandable, since casual Bronson fans don’t seek out his pictures for emotional or intellectual nuance. And it’s not as if Rider in the Rain is some lost masterpiece. Quite to the contrary, it’s mediocre at best thanks to a murky and nasty storyline. What’s more, leading lady Marlène Jobert is hardly the most compelling of actresses, perhaps owing to the fact that she’s not a native English speaker; as in the middling To Catch a Spy (1971), which pairs Jobert with Kirk Douglas, she’s badly overshadowed here by a charismatic American star.
          In any event, Rider on the Rain recycles the familiar Hitchcock formula for romantic intrigue, but rampant misogyny renders the film thoroughly unpleasant. At the beginning the story, Mélancolie (Jobert) observes a strange man exiting a bus during a rainstorm in the small town where she lives. Later, after her domineering airplane-navigator husband Tony (Gabriele Tinti) leaves on a work trip, the mystery man invades Mélancolie’s house and rapes her. Gaining the upper hand after the assault, she kills him with a shotgun, then disposes of his body. Enter another mystery man, Dobbs (Bronson), who shows up with insinuations that he knows what happened. Dobbs terrorizes Mélancolie with threats of blackmail and violence, eventually revealing that he wants a bag of money the rapist had in his possession. Dobbs’ motivations change repeatedly as Mélancolie learns more and more about him, and the worst contrivance of the picture is that she falls for her mercurial tormentor.
          Director René Clément strives to lighten the mood with offbeat flourishes, such as Dobbs’ habit of tossing almonds at windowpanes, but the whole enterprise feels seedy. That said, it’s always a kick to watch Bronson operating outside his comfort zone, though he’s far more credible when his character acts aggressively than when his character acts seductively. (He constantly refers to Mélancolie as “love-love,” borrowing a phrase printed on her underpants—really!—but the nickname ends up sounding like “glub-glub” half the time.) Additionally, Hitchcock fans may enjoy this movie’s overt homages to the Master of Suspense—the rapist’s name, for instance, is a nod to one of Hitchcock’s favorite storytelling devices.

Rider on the Rain: FUNKY

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