After The Wages of Fear (1953) and Diabolique (1955), Henri-Georges Clouzot became pigeonholed as the French Hitchcock. Somewhat lost in the shuffle has been his richer, more idiosyncratic Quai des Orfèvres (1947), back in town in a restored print with new, unexpurgated subtitles. Quai des Orfèvres (the Paris equivalent of “Scotland Yard”) concerns coquettish chanteuse Jenny (Suzy Delair, the director’s real-life partner and muse for many years) and her jealous pianist husband (Bernard Blier), who become involved in a murder. The thriller plot is just the pretext for an atmospheric portrait of post-war Paris: little old streets, smoke-filled music halls, the circus, sordid apartments, and depressing police stations peopled with loquacious characters. Clouzot was working for the first time with Armand Thirard, who became his favorite cinematographer; the visual style has an expressionistic undertow, rich in shadowy chiaroscuro compositions.
While Delair is lively and appealing, Charles Dullin is magnificently creepy as the murder victim, a lecherous hunchback who had agreed to further her singing career, at a price. In a role that would have been unthinkable in an American film of this period, the striking Simone Renant plays photographer Dora, Jenny’s best friend, who’s in love with her but suffers in silence. The most complex character, as embodied by Paris stage star Louis Jouvet, is Antoine: a sardonic Maigret-like police inspector who’d like to devote himself to the care of the mulatto son he brought back from the colonies. Clouzot’s view of things may be the most jaundiced in all French cinema, but here, he treats Jouvet’s cop with rare warmth. Toward the end of the film, there’s a lovely scene in which Antoine, realizing why Dora has risked so much for Jenny, remarks: “You and I are two of a kind—we’ll never get lucky with women.”