Blacklisted for his daring "anti-French" masterpiece, Le Corbeau, Henri-Georges Clouzot returned to cinema four years later with the 1947 crime fiction adaptation, Quai des Orfevres. Set within the vibrant dancehalls and historic crime corridors of 1940s Paris, ambitious performer Jenny Lamour (Suzy Delair), her covetous piano-playing husband Maurice Martineau (Bertrand Blier), and their devoted confidante Dora Monier (Simone Renant) attempt to cover one another’s tracks when a sexually ogreish high-society acquaintance is murdered. Enter Inspector Antoine (Louis Jouvet), whose seasoned instincts lead him down a circuitous path in this classic whodunit murder mystery.
Though dressed in the guise of a murder mystery, Quai des Orfèvres is a rich, engrossing character study in which murder plays a secondary role. Six years before the triumph of The Wages of Fear, director Henri-Georges Clouzot couldn't find a copy of his source novel (Légitime Defense, by Stanislas-André Steeman), so he crafted this stylish police procedural from spotty memory, infuriating the author while freeing himself to explore the depths of his all-too-human characters. Using atmospheric Parisian locations and shadowy compositions that rival anything in American film noir, Clouzot gives plausible alibis to the prime suspects--a dancehall chanteuse, her suspicious husband, and a fashionable lesbian photographer--while a seasoned detective (played to perfection by Louis Jouvet) efficiently sorts through the clues. Anyone expecting thrills will be disappointed: Clouzot's fascination with human behavior prevails, and this subtle mix of motives and secrets is delicately balanced with underworld cynicism and a compassionate understanding of the human heart. --Jeff Shannon