Monday, 7 December 2009

Dames Don’t Care (1954)

Dames Don’t Care was the third of the long and highly successful series of French movies based on the novels of British crime writer Peter Cheyney. They follow the adventures of his fast-talking, wise-cracking, two-fisted, womanising FBI agent, Lemmy Caution, on assignment in various European countries. They’ve very much inspired by the classic American crime B-movie, with a few film noir touches and a hint of international intrigue.

Lemmy’s tough guy persona and his fondness for the ladies are exaggerated to cartoonish levels, and quite deliberately so. There’s a very definite and very strong tongue-in-cheek quality to these movies. Eddie Constantine’s most famous performance as Lemmy Caution was to come in Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, a very different kind of movie. But the character is still the same.

The very glamorous Dominique Wilms (who appears in several of these movies) makes a delightfully over-the-top femme fatale. She’s clearly enjoying herself, and she and Eddie Constanine have just the right sort of cynical hardbitten chemistry. There’s non-stop action, and a plot that is so convoluted that to be honest I don’t have the remotest idea what was actually going on. It really doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t detract from the fun. These were obviously low-budget movies and there’s not a great deal of technical sophistication on show here, although there’s quite a bit of fairly effective night photography. And of course, being 1954, there are some very cool American convertibles (FBI agents obviously took their cars with them when their duties took them to Europe).

Writer-director Bernard Borderie isn’t taking any of this seriously, and nor should we. Long before James Bond and the various spy spoof movies of the 60s the French were already poking affectionate fun at this type of film.

Eddie Constantine became a major star in Europe as a result of the Lemmy Caution movies and made many other similar films as well. He never did achieve any real recognition in his home country (he was born in the US). These types of tongue-in-cheek spy/crime thrillers didn’t really become successful in Britain and the US until the 60s, so Lemmy Caution was perhaps ahead of his time!

This is a world of smoky night-clubs, jazz, fast cars, dangerous women and intricate and outlandish criminal plots where everybody is double-crossing everybody else. It’s all highly entertaining, and a treat for anyone who’s a fan of crime B-movies.

The Lemmy Caution movies (and indeed most of Eddie Constantine’s movies) are not available on commercial DVD releases, so you’ll have to do some searching to find any of these movies. That’s sadly the case with so many very entertaining eurocrime/eurospy titles.

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