Arrow Video: Spotlight on a Murderer (1961) - Reviewed

After sending shockwaves through the French film industry with his still gruesome and visually striking gothic horror disfigurement thriller Eyes Without a Face, French auteur Georges Franju decided to try something a little lighter with his next picture Spotlight on a Murderer.  While still of the thriller genre, Eyes Without a Face caused such a stir that it made sense to backpedal somewhat.  An ensemble, even sexy black comedy/thriller steeped in gothic horror tropes about a band of heirs struggling to find the sickly and mysteriously missing Count Herve de Kerloquen with the news that he cannot be declared legally dead until five years later, leaving the group’s inheritances under lock and key.  To try and make ends meet at the Count’s scenic chateau, the group tries to reshape the location into a profitable tourist attraction, if only people would stop turning up dead in the process.

A kind of impish send up of the murder-mystery noir while also channeling his own brand of gothic black-and-white visuals, Georges Franju’s Spotlight on a Murderer which doesn’t come anywhere near the unfathomable visceral horrors depicted in Eyes Without a Face comes across as fun little romp in the director’s sadly short lived canon.  Feature fine performances by it’s international cast including the mad scientist from Eyes Without a Face as the mercurial Count Kerloquen, a haunting score by the great Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia; Doctor Zhivago; Jacob’s Ladder) and handsome location photography by Marcel Fradetal, the film posits itself somewhere between gothic suspense and deliberately exploiting the clich├ęs of the Agatha Christie subgenre for highly entertaining effect. 

Watching Franju’s film, which reportedly did not take off at the box office upon initially release before the director’s career quietly fizzled out, I was reminded of The Haunting and even Murder By Death.  Gathering together a band of outsiders with their own respective closeted skeletons into an old dark house/mansion/castle is as old as The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case and while Spotlight on a Murderer doesn’t quite go for the belly laughs of the Laurel and Hardy comedy, it does dip it’s toes in kindred waters.  Fans of Eyes Without a Face shouldn’t expect the explicit gore from that film and instead are encouraged to put their feet up and kick back this time around and enjoy the whodunit murder mystery dark comedy at hand.  Not a groundbreaker by any means but a swell time in the annals of early 60s French suspense comedies.


- Andrew Kotwicki