An American/French coproduction plainly designed to evoke Hitchcock’s style of intricate mystery/suspense plotting—as well as his affinity for kinky sexual undercurrents—The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun is as labored as its title. Adapted from Sébastien Japrisot’s novel by a cabal of writers including Richard Harris (yes, the movie star), The Lady in the Car spins its web methodically, presenting one bizarre event after another until both the protagonist and the audience have good reason to worry about going mad. This means it’s hard to track the narrative from one scene to the next, and even harder to parse character motivations. That the film concludes with an Agatha Christie-style explanation sequence rightly indicates how far out of control the plot spins before the conclusion. Yet the movie is not without its charms, not least the presence of formidable costar Oliver Reed.
Ad-agency secretary Danielle “Dany” Lang (Samantha Eggar) works for the stern Michael Caldwell (Reed), who asks her to visit his home for last-minute work on an urgent proposal. Since Dany knows that Michael’s wife, Anita (Stéphane Audran), will be home, she doesn’t expect anything out of sorts to occur, and excepting some catty exchanges with Anita, the visit is strictly professional. That is, until Dany retires to her room for the evening, Michael’s private study—positioned next to the bed is a nude photo of Anita. Awkward! Things get complicated once Dany drives Michael and Anita to the airport for a getaway, accepting the use of Michael’s fancy car for several days as payment for above-and-beyond services. Dany’s long trip to a resort town includes strange run-ins and, at one point, an inexplicable episode during which Dany badly injures her hand without any memory of how the injury happened. And so it goes from there, inevitably spiraling toward suspicion and terror and violence.
Not much of what happens in The Lady in the Car makes sense, and only some of it is interesting. So even though Eggar provides an alluring presence and channels anxiety effectively, the movie overall is quite opaque, perhaps deliberately so, and frequently pretentious. (Try not to titter when Reed delivers this line: “That, as they say, Dany, is life.”) Happily, the movie gets better as it goes along, and the last half-hour provides not only plentiful scenes of Reed being anguished and/or menacing, but also a welcome dash of Hitchcockian kinkiness. Is The Lady in the Car anything more than a distraction, forgotten the instant it’s over? Probably not. But in its best moments, the movie aspires to a kind of literary elegance, and there’s some merit in the attempt. Incidentally, Japrisot’s novel was remade in 2015 as a French film, again called The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun.
The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun: FUNKY