Sunday, 20 June 2010

Daniella By Night (1961)

Daniella By Night (De quoi tu te mêles Daniela!) is an odd little film. It’s a spy thriller that often seems to veer more towards romance or even romantic comedy. At the time it was notable as being the film that made Elke Sommer a star.

Directed by Max Pécas, who had an interesting career making low-budget movies that a steadily increasing emphasis on sex, Daniella By Night combines two equally glamorous worlds - that of high fashion, and of espionage.

Daniella (Elke Sommer) is a young German model newly arrived in Paris. She is to take the place of another model who recently met with an unfortunate (and fatal) accident. She soon catches the eye of the middle-aged and very wealthy boss, Count Castellani, and in doing so arouses the enmity of his current girlfriend. When Daniella starts getting the most desirable modelling assignments this enmity increases even further. Daniella has also made the acquaintance of a handsome young journalist named Karl.

Karl is interested in the Count as well, and we soon discover why. The Count’s fashion house is a cover for an espionage operation. Daniella finds herself unwittingly drawn into the world of spies. There is a microfilm containing top-secret information. The movie wisely doesn’t bore us with any details since all we need to know is that several foreign governments want the microfilm while the French government is equally anxious to buy back this information. The microfilm is concealed within a lipstick.

Poor Daniella is soon involved in more than just espionage - murder is added to the mix as well. She doesn’t know who to trust. Daniella is a bold and resourceful young woman and she’s not prepared to be merely an innocent bystander. If she’s going to be embroiled n international intrigue she’s going to be an active participant.

This movie is representative of what might be called the first wave of eurospy movies. The second wave was heavily influenced by the enormous success of the British James Bond movies and these later films boasted the kinds of gadgetry and outlandish diabolical criminal masterminds that the Bond movies introduced to the world of spy films. The earlier eurospy movies of the 50s and early 60s were a different breed. The most successful were the French Lemmy Caution movies. They lacked the spectacular action sequences and the gadgets borrowed from the Bond movies but they have charm of their own.

These movies are mostly fairly low-key with a visual style owing a great deal to American film noir, but with an essentially light-hearted tongue-in-cheek approach. They’re unashamedly B-movies but they’re stylish and entertaining B-movies.

And of course they have glamorous women, often reminiscent of the classic femme fatal of the film noir, and an aura of danger combined with sexiness. Elke Sommer provides most of the glamour in Daniella By Night and with her natural charm and likeability she’s a heroine who will have little trouble engaging the sympathies of the audience.

The movie’s biggest selling point at the time was that it boasted a nude scene featuring Elke Sommer, which was in fact the only time she ever appeared nude on film. If you’re going to insert gratuitous nudity you should at least do it with a certain amount of style, and that’s what Pécas does. Daniella is strip-searched by the bad guys on stage in front of a night-club audience who think it’s all part of the floor show. It’s done with wit and imagination, quite sort from the inherent appeal of Ms Sommer sans clothing.

It’s a movie that is best approached without excessively high expectations. It’s no cinematic masterpiece but if you accept it as a B-movie it’s a fairly entertaining mix of intrigue, romance and classy sexiness.

The jazz soundtrack is a plus. It’s also a treat for anyone with a taste for early 60s fashions and hairstyles. Lots of beehive hairdos! And Elke Sommer looks rather striking, with some rather bold eye make-up.

Elke’s next movie for Max Pécas, Douce violence (Sweet Violence), is a more interesting film and is also available on DVD.

The First Run Features DVD release of Daniella By Night is best described as adequate. It’s quite watchable and we probably should be grateful that a movie like this is available at all.

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