Synopsis: At the end of World War I, Arsène Lupin resumes his adventurous life. The theft of three paintings, committed by an opponent, leads him to the treasure of the Golden Fleece, which the beautiful Aurelia seeks to capture.
Signé Arsène Lupin 7.25
eyelights: Lupin’s coolness under pressure.
eyesores: its simplistic resolutions of puzzles or problems.
In 1959, two years after ‘Les Aventures d’Arsène Lupin‘, Robert Lamoureux returned as the titular gentleman thief in ‘Signé Arsène Lupin’. Set in 1919, in the aftermath of World War I, it follows Lupin’s attempt to find three paintings that will lead him to the Golden Fleece.
Interestingly, although pretty much the same producers also worked on this film, this time the picture is considered a France-Italy co-production. Further to this, they hired a different team to helm it: none other than director Yves Robert and screenwriter Jean-Paul Rappeneau.
This may not mean much to many, but years later Robert would be the director behind one of Pierre Richard’s biggest hits, ‘Le grand blond avec une chaussure noire‘, and Rappeneau would eventually direct one of France’s greatest pictures (and my all-time favourite), ‘Cyrano de Bergerac‘.
That is not to say that ‘Signé Arsène Lupin’ is of high calibre (it was, after all, made decades before the pair’s greatest successes), but at least it as pedigree. And there’s no doubt that it’s a better film than its predecessor, which felt more like a feature-length television show.
This time, our story (which again, is merely inspired by Maurice Leblanc’s oeuvre) is set in the Spring of 1919. It begins at a countryside hospital, where André Laroche (a.k.a Lupin), a WWI war hero, is convalescing. Contacted by La Ballu, an old partner in crime, he gets back to work.
However, on their first job together, Lupin is double-crossed, and left to fend off the police – after which La Ballu goes on a string of heists and leaves Lupin’s calling card. The media have field day with it, notably a mysterious journalist called Véritas, putting further pressure on Lupin.
This leaves him in the predicament of tracking down Le Ballu before the law gets to him. And that’s when he begins to see a pattern in the crimes, realizes that Le Ballu has a partner, and decides to outdo both of them. It’s basically a race for treasure between two sets of criminals.
Personally, despite some significant flaws (it’s a low budget production by Hollywood standards, and the writing is slightly naïve at times), I much preferred this sequel; it felt more like a real movie, what with more location shooting, fewer sets, and a more filmic look (it’s in b+w and widescreen).
Plus which Laroche/Lupin comes off as wilier and more appealing here; he’s less of an @$$hole with his staff, and slightly smoother with women. So he’s more pleasing to watch. I also like that his brains are more in use here, as he’s forced to solve the various puzzles he’s faced with.
The picture is also built on a few rather memorable scenes, instead of just three simple stories:
- The whole set-up and delivery of the first heist is a good time: Lupin and Le Ballu basically stake out the island mansion they’re planning to hit, then Lupin drugs their water supply with a ridiculous contraption. The sight of everyone passed out about the house (with Lupin stealing a kiss from a woman before tucking her in) and the way Lupin just escapes the police’s clutches was pure delight.
- There’s a moment when Lupin decides to root out the thief, and proceeds to outfox everyone so that he can inspect the scene of a recent crime before the cops arrive – and then outsmarts the cops themselves, locking them in and out of rooms so that he can continue his investigation. It’s quite an amusing scene and it adds a great deal to Lupin’s playful nature in this film.
- At one point, Lupin deduces that a woman he’d been crossing paths with is involved in the scheme to sully his name. So he arranges for his butler to race over to stall the train she’s on, and then he himself races from Italy to catch up with her. Even though it’s an old film and they’re merely racing against time, somehow it’s a fairly exciting double-racing scene.
- Even though Lupin bursts into Aurélia’s cabin and immediately seduces her, it doesn’t prevent him from searching her cabin while he’s in her arms and confirming his suspicions about her. And they say that men only think with their dicks and that they can’t multitask! Pfft!
- There’s a subplot involving Véritas, a young journalist called Isidore, who is trying to track Lupin down and crack the case. The police are onto him, however, and are tailing him. So when he actually does discover Lupin’s true identity, he unwittingly brings the cops right to his house, leading to a dramatic arrest.
- This leads to a scene that best exemplifies Lupin’s playful and sharp personality: playing it cool under intense interrogation in jail, biding his time instead of escaping (and thereby proving he’s Lupin) he lets the police understand that, while he’s stuck there, the others are racing to get the treasure the French government wants to claim. But they don’t listen to him, which forces him to escape to stop Aurélia and Le Ballu.
Unfortunately, the ending is anticlimactic: there’s a lot of waiting around and little confrontation; Lupin merely solves the enigma. To make matters worse, the buttons and triggers he finds were in plain sight all along – so, um… why had no one ever once stumbled upon them while visiting the ruins?
Still, all in all, ‘Signé Arsène Lupin’ was a good ol’ romp. I have no idea how faithful it is to the source material, but as a diversion it does its job well – it’s a wonder why there wasn’t another entry in the series. There would be other films, by other producers, but it would be the last of this Lupin.
And just when they were starting to get it right, too!
Date of viewing: March 11, 2016