Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Your Turn Darling (1963)

Before James Bond there was Lemmy Caution. He was the hero of a whole series of French movies in the 50s and early 60s, movies that were the ancestors of both the eurospy and spy spoof movies that boomed during the 1960s. Your Turn Darling (À toi de faire... mignonne) was the seventh such movie to feature Eddie Constantine in the role.

The character was created by British hardboiled crime writer Peter Cheyney (1896-1951) and figured in ten novels between 1936 and 1945. They were hugely successful at the time and built up a major following in France. Lemmy Caution remains something of a pop culture icon there.

Eddie Constantine (1917-1993) was a gravel-voiced American-born singer and actor who spent most of his career in France and Germany. He’s best-known for his role in Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville in 1965, where he again played Lemmy Caution but in a very different kind of film.

Cheyney’s novels were pulpy and tongue-in-cheek and the movies captured the same feel. They’re great fun although sadly while English-dubbed versions exist there are no official English-friendly DVD releases and those that can be found are fullframe (which is not a problem with the earlier movies in the series that were shot in 1.33:1 but is a problem with the later entries in the cycle which were filmed in 2.35:1.

Lemmy Caution is an FBI agent whose cases always seem to take him to France. This time scientist Elmer Whittaker has been kidnapped, and this scientist has developed a secret formula for something terribly important and it must not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands. Lemmy is hot on the trail and the trail (as always) leads him to an assortment of beautiful but dangerous women. Luckily Lemmy likes beautiful but dangerous women almost as much as he likes Scotch whisky, and he likes Scotch whisky very much indeed.

The beautiful but dangerous women spend almost as much time trying to kill each other as they spend trying to kill Lemmy. The most dangerous of all is the widow of a famous Italian painter who is not what she seems to be.

Lemmy has little trouble figuring out who the kidnappers are but getting Dr Whittaker back is not so simple. The kidnappers are threatening to sell him and the formula to an unfriendly government and Lemmy has to persuade the FBI to come up with a million dollars in ransom money. He has some tricks up his sleeve but so do the kidnappers.

Compared to later spy movies there are very few gadgets and no spectacular sets or action sequences. In that respect the Lemmy Caution movies are more like the spy movies of the 40s and they’re a mix of espionage and hardboiled crime.

This is not the best of the Lemmy Caution movies by any means. The earlier films combined hardboiled dialogue, international intrigue and tongue-in-cheek humour in a balanced mix, a mix very similar to that of the later Bond movies. This time around the comedy completely predominates. You’re certainly better off starting with the earlier movies from the 50s like Poison Ivy or Dames Don't Care (both of which feature the wonderful and very exotic Dominique Wilms).

Having said that, Your Turn Darling is still good-natured fun and Eddie Constantine is always worth watching.

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