Friday, 6 November 2009

The Golden Claws of the Cat Girl (1968)

A more literal translation of La louve solitaire would be The Lone She-Wolf and this movie was released under that title also, but the copy I saw had the infinitely superior title The Golden Claws of the Cat Girl. It’s another European (in this case Franco-Italian) comic-book style crime caper movie, and while it’s not the best of its breed it’s still worth a look.

Françoise (played by Danièle Gaubert) is a cat burglar. She was a trapeze artist and tightrope walker until a plane crash killed the rest of her troupe and she had to look for a new career. It proved to be a very successful career change, until she has an unfortunate encounter with the chief of the Paris drug squad. She is now facing a long prison sentence, but he offers her a deal. If she does one job for the police, she can go free. The job is a tricky one, involving a break-in at an embassy. A member of the embassy staff is involved in an international drug ring, but the annoying problem of diplomatic immunity makes it necessary for the police to adopt unconventional means to use this courier to lead them to the Mr Big of the drug trade.

For this job Françoise is given an assistant, an expert lip-reader named Bruno. The police don’t want to cause an international incident by bugging the embassy, so they use Bruno to keep tabs on their suspect. Using his lip-reading skills and a powerful telescope he can effectively listen in on conversations in the embassy. The job doesn’t turn out quite as planned, complications and plot twists ensue, Françoise finds herself pursued by both the cops and the drug smugglers whilst also becoming romantically involved with Bruno.

There are a couple of neatly executed visual set-pieces as Françoise does her high-wire burglary thing. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the premise, in fact it’s pretty good, and the plot twists are effective enough. But somehow it doesn’t turn out quite as well as you might expect. Danièle Gaubert is reasonably good as Françoise, who is of course (as any good cat-burglar should be) both beautiful and sexy. The other members of the cast are at best adequate. The big problem seems to be the lack of any romantic chemistry between Françoise and Bruno, which makes the love story sub-plot fall rather flat which in turn gives us less reason to care about the fate of the characters.

A movie of this type is inevitably going to be compared to Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik!, which is easily the best movie of this type ever made. The Golden Claws of the Cat Girl just doesn’t have the extraordinary style and the wit of Bava’s film, and the two leads don’t have the charm and the chemistry that John Philip Law and Marisa Mell had. It also lacks truly memorable villains. It also doesn’t possess the energy and the manic humour and sheer craziness of Jess Franco’s Lucky, the Inscrutable . In fact humour is another key ingredient that this film desperately needs more of.

Having said all that it’s not by any means a bad movie, and it’s a painless way to kill an hour-and-a-half. It’s stylish, it has a very sexy female cat-burglar, and some fun 60s interior design and clothes. As long as you’re not expecting something in the same league as Danger: Diabolik! it’s a fairly entertaining little movie.

This is another movie that unfortunately requires a certain amount of tracking down.

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