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Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier 1959
Description: Dr. Cordelier, living in a suburb of Paris, withdraws from society to pursue research into the functioning of the human brain. His lifelong friend, Maître Joly, becomes concerned when Cordelier draws up a will that bequeaths his whole estate to a stranger, Monsieur Opale; he cannot understand why Cordelier defends him, considering Opale attacks girls and children. After a colleague is killed, Joly confronts Cordelier and discovers the truth behind his friend's behavior.
Released: 04 Jul 1960 Director: Jean Renoir Writers: Jean Renoir Actors: Jean-Louis Barrault, Teddy Bilis, Sylviane Margollé, Jean Bertho Genres: Drama, Horror
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Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier Reviews:

This is the only ver of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" that enables the viewer to watch the storyline as if it were new. It's the only one in which the wonderful happenings proceed from commonplace surroundings: it's set contemporaneously and shot like a documentary program. It's also the only one in which the two characters are believably distinct: one would never guess that the fussy, ascetic Jekyll and the careless, garish Hyde should be the same man. It's the only ver that makes clear Jekyll's hypocrisy, which was the mission Stevenson was emphasizing and which I never understood before: what Jekyll's mate can't understand--the reason Jekyll blocks the investigation of Hyde's crimes--is not that the criminal has some keep over him, but that he himself is the criminal and is protecting his own nice name. Barrault's make-up as Hyde is rudimentary compared to the elaborately gruesome make-ups of the another versions, but what he makes of the hero is far more meaningful. This Hyde is comic until he turns violent; he's a cross between Chaplin's tramp, a juvenile delinquent of the 50's, and an aboriginal--figures that can all be seen as embodiments of anarchy. He does exactly as his impulses compel him. Jekyll does the same--but while his patients are anesthetized, so they won't know. This ver of "Jekyll", without unique results or filmic style and in modern dress, is the only serious one. I think Stevenson would have respected it.


Frankly, I have lost count of how many cinematic adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic story, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", I have watched but, since Jean Renoir is one of my favourite film-makers, this rarely-seen movie had everytime been one of my holy grails. Before now, it had been accessible only as an unsubtitled French DVD - which I had even considered purchasing at one mission but actually I am sure glad I waited!Curiously enough for such a master of the movie medium, Renoir's ver was shot for TV - it even begins off with the bubbly writer/director entering the studio to 'present' the present - although it did receive eventually released to French theaters in late 1961. Having told that, it is quite appropriate given the topics matter that Renoir himself seemed to be in an experimental state of mind: shooting with three to eight cameras and cutting only at the end of every sequence, his intention was to gratis his actors from the filmic constraints of relentless cutting and repeated takes. No one benefited more from this deliberately 'flat' approach to the material than his inspired choice for lead actor, Jean Louis Barrault, the celebrated mime best-known for his role in Marcel Carne''s CHILDREN OF PARADISE (1945): his is a truly remarkable performance. We see Cordelier (the Jekyll figure) during three stages of his life: the time when, as a young general practitioner, he first hit upon the notion that nice and evil should be separated; the distinguished research scientist, gracefully aged but something of a recluse and, of course, Opale - wearing no make-up except for a set of false teeth and a shaggy wig, Renoir and Barrault's bizarre idea of Hyde as a prancing ("light as air" as he himself puts it) thug with overgrown hair whose mayhem perhaps feels more like the thrill-seeking antics of a spoiled brat (at times recalling Renoir's earlier creation, Boudu, as a matter of fact) rather than the handiwork of someone who is supposedly evil incarnate...although, he does kick the living hell out of his victims as they lie helplessly on the ground!Two another notable secondary characters are the lawyer (Teddy Bilis) who is baffled by Cordelier's singular will but who sticks by his mate till the bitter end, and Michel Vitold's irascible psychiatrist, a rival of Cordelier's and whose heart condition Opale sadistically exploits; interestingly, Vitold would soon enjoy the villainous banker Favraux in Georges Franju's marvelous makeover of JUDEX (1963). Renoir regular Gaston Modot is also featured as Barrault's elderly handyman: he had been the lead in Luis Bunuel's L'AGE D'OR (1930) and the stage here in which Opale kicks a crutch from under a limping boy recalls the one in the notorious Surrealist movie where Modot's anarchic protagonist pushes a blind boy into a busy street. Other veteran of Renoir's cinema is composer Joseph Kosma whose unbelievable score emerges as other major asset. The fact that its plot essentially centers around the mysterious goings-on in the household of an eminent physician reminded me of the contemporaneous EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1959) even if, as I told earlier, there is tiny room here for poetic photos so prevalent in Franju's film. Incidentally, just as I never refer to that movie by its silly American moniker - THE HORROR CHAMBER OF DR. FAUSTUS - I loathe Lionsgate's decision to attach the unflattering game THE DOCTOR'S HORRIBLE EXPERIMENT to the Renoir picture! Despite the action being relocated to Paris and set in contemporary times, this is now one of the most faithful renditions of Stevenson's work: it is virtually the only movie ver which lends its central theme of nice vs. evil a spiritual resonance (the doctor even commits suicide, while still in his Opale persona, by taking a lethal dose of his own potion) where most another adaptations had just opted to concentrate on the element of repressed sexuality inherent in Stevenson's original. In fact, there is no significant female hero here at all. Renoir does give us tips in that direction, however, as we do see Cordelier (rather than Opale) corrupted - time and again, we are said on his tape-recorded confession - into ravishing his patients while they are under the anaesthetic. The metamorphosis is clearly a painful one and Cordelier assumes a foetal position during the first transformation indicating a physical rebirth; interestingly, given that the movie is not structured in a linear fashion, we meet Opale, roaming the roads of Paris at night, before we are formally introduced to his benign alter-ego, Dr. Cordelier. In conclusion, THE TESTAMENT OF DR. CORDELIER not only emerges as easy one of the greatest filmed versions of the novel - edged only by the Rouben Mamoulian/Fredric March 1931 milestone and just ahead of Walerian Borowczyk's delirious DOCTEUR JEKYLL ET LES FEMMES (1981), which it predates in few aspects - but as yet other nice Renoir work. Hardly the "risible...probably the only disaster in the Renoir canon" dismissal one reads about in David Quinlan's ebook on movie directors! On a more private note, I am disappointed by the sheer lack of online reviews of this necessary 3-Disc Set from Lionsgate and, hopefully, I will not only receive to the rest of the Renoir movies therein in due time but may also take this occasion to watch Giorgio Albertazzi's similarly updated 4-hour adaptation made for Italian TV, JEKYLL (1969), which I recently acquired.


This is a French TV movie with the quality of a major cinema production. The opening is cute unusual - director Jean Renoir plays himself as he arrives at the studio and then makes the concluding audio recordings as the narrator of his film.It's a fascinating variation of the Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde theme, this time they are named Dr. Cordelier and Monsieur Opale. It's nearly wonderful that both are played by one actor: Jean-Louis Barrault. How he uses his pantomimic and dancing abilities to portray Opale, the dark incarnation of Cordelier freed from all moral restraints, is phenomenal. His body movements and facial expressions are so weird ... and the walking-stick in his hand almost seems to lead an own life. What an outstanding performance!



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