Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33 No. 12. 5 August 1970
Film Review — Charlie Bubbles and The Champagne Murders
Charlie Bubbles and The Champagne Murders.
Charlie Bubbles is in all respects a far superior film, despite my doubts about a couple of points. It is interesting to note the number of actors who have at one time or another directed films (whether starring themselves or not): Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster, Karl Malden, Paul Newman, Cornel Wilde, Anthony Quinn, John Wayne, Dennis Hopper, Orson Welles (of course), and no doubt a few more besides. Now we have Albert Finney who, with Charlie Bubbles, has made the most remarkable directorial debut since Orson Welles. Finney evinces a sensitivity and understanding which has eluded most others who have tried their hand behind the camera. This complex account of a successful writer's reactions to the events of a single weekend gives Finney ample opportunity to express his personality both as actor and director. Throughout the film there is no evidence of hesitancy or lack of control. This is no doubt due in some part to the capabilities of the team as a whole. The acting is faultless and Peter Schushitzky is on top form with some beautiful colour photography.
My only gripe concerns the ending, which I found abrupt and inconclusive. Perhaps I am being overly conventional in wanting some kind of resolution, a tying together of loose ends. Presumably the conclusion is as Finney wanted it, but this is small comfort to an audience which feds naught but perplexity at the sight of Charlie Bubbles wafting away in a balloon to God knows where. In any case, what does it all mean? Is this lofty ascent symbolic of Charlie's flight from the encumbrances of his friends and surroundings, or is it devoid of implication and representative merely of a playful dalliance? The cynic, in the face of such speculation, might opt for the former alternative, and observe that the easy way out for Charlie Bubbles, author, also happens to be the easy way out for Albert Finney, director.
My disappointment at the seemingly premature conclusion did not linger long—there are too many fine scenes and individual performances, to say nothing of Shelagh Delaney's tart, observant script or Finney's imaginative use of setting and atmosphere. One could mention here numerous bits and pieces of exceptional quality: Finney and Colin Blakely literally dressing each other down in a posh restaurant, various happenings in the Bubbles mansion—cannily observed through an array of 'hidden eye' TV cameras—or Liza Minelli, a talented and unusually attractive actress, seducing an exhausted and slightly bored Charlie. These and many other moments make this a film of considerable power. It is also quiet, sad, humourous, and altogether endearing. Charlie Bubbles is in some ways more personal than If . . . but is, like Anderson's film, one of the few cinematic happenings for which this year will be remembered.
The first Claude Chabrol film I ever had the pleasure of seeing was Les Cousins, released here some seven or eight years ago. This was a sensitive and masterly portrayal of a country boy's experience of university life, and his relationship with a sophisticated city cousin. Although I have not seen a film directed by Chabrol since then, the memory of Les Cousins obtrudes from time to time, and I recall the film even now with a considerable degree of satisfaction. It is probably for this reason that I find The Champagne Murders trite, mostly boring, and unworthy of the talents revealed by this director in the earlier film. Some of those who (quite rightly) criticise a distribution system which allows so few 'name' foreign films into the country, and who are, as well, cognisant of Chabrol's eminent position, may seize upon The Champagne Murders with overwrought gratitude, giving it due far beyond its real value. I sympathise with their enthusiasm, but cannot agree that the film is worth more simply because it has managed to sneak past the barriers raised by our pitifully inept movie moguls.
The plot is of little consequence and the acting is atrocious. It's usually bad news when Anthony Perkins appears in a film made by a foreign director. None of them seem to have the ability to tap the talent that Perkins undoubtedly has. Here we see on display the familiar surface mannerisms, without any of the depth apparent in some of his other performances. One need only recall Perkins in Pretty Poison to see what I mean. The rest of the acting is either faceless or grotesque, although Maurice Ronet (as M. Wagner) strikes the right note now and then. The performers are not entirely to blame; the script offers nothing but inanities for them to get their teeth into, and the listless dubbing (English onto English) makes the characters seem even less animated. Since it is obvious from the outset that M. Wagner is not responsible for the murders, the 'surprise' ending is hardly surprising, though it does have a decidedly kinky aspect.
Chabrol decks out his film with the now conventional excess and finery. Glimpses of the idle rich mingle with none too subtle hints of wickedness in high places. When faced with a lack of substance in the script, throw in a few scenes which purport to strip the veneer from the seething cesspool that is high society. Not only high, but intellectual as well. It is no coincidence that one of the murderer's victims, perpetrator of the film's most boring and supposedly dissipated diversion, is an internationally recognized artist. All these trimmings may titillate the impressionable, but actually it's all a [unclear: bi] drag. The Champagne Murders is an undisciplined and quite useles film. Indeed, it is difficult to think of any justification for its ever having been made. Chabrol gives some indication of his capabilities in the pre-credit and credit sequences, which are taut, suspenseful and promise great things to come. These few minutes divorced [unclear: from] the other mess are, however, hardly worth the price of admission [unclear: on] their own.