Devil’s Daughter (1946)

29% – Audience

Devil’s Daughter Storyline

A gangster,Saget, who has stolen a lot of money, takes refuge in his hometown.There he meets a strange doctor who seems to know too many things about him and begins to blackmail him :much to the outlaw’s surprise, he asks for a radiotherapy center to relieve the children’s sufferings.He wants to help the whole town where lives Isabelle,”the hanged man ‘s daughter”.She’s been an outcast since.Her reason to live is not to get back to happiness but to make sure the others will not be happy.

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Devil’s Daughter Movie Reviews

Fascinating French film with a great central anti-heroine

This somewhat unusual French movie derives its title from a very interesting character indeed. She is a bitter girl who is an outcast in the small town she lives on account of her father who was an embezzler who winded up committing suicide. His daughter was then categorised as one who was trouble to know and, in fairness, not entirely without good reason seeing as she actively despises everyone in the town and does all in her power to antagonise them at every given opportunity. She encounters a kindred spirit in a notorious gangster who moves to her town under a false identity after he escapes the police in the aftermath of a major shoot-out and winds up in a car accident when his drunken getaway driver crashes the car; it is this man whose identity he assumes and who had lived in the town as a boy but left many years previously. The girl and the gangster are essentially the black hearts of the movie, with a wily doctor operating as the third point in the dramatic triangle. He manipulates the criminal into investing his money into good causes for the town, knowing full well he is not who he says he is.

This is a very interesting bit of cinema which shows once more that the French certainly were not held back so much by the sorts of restrictions Hollywood was by the Hays Code back in the day. This is a wilfully dark tale where no one really acts in a truly good manner – the girl hates the world, the gangster is a killer and the doctor, while essentially good, is still a blackmailer. They are great immoral characters to base the story around and their actions are pretty hard to predict. The story begins with an excellent urban shoot out with the criminal having a last stand in a high-rise but the gears change once we reach the town where the psychological aspects of the drama are brought to the fore. Pierre Fresnay is great as Saget, the gangster whose story propels the story, Fernand Ledoux is a lot of fun as the doctor who manipulates him and best of all is Andrée Clément as Isabelle, ‘the devils’ daughter’, in an extremely memorable performance of a character who is pretty unique and original; she’s no femme fatale, she is an outright bad girl extraordinaire! Essentially, this quite obscure film is a great showcase of the types of bold movies the French were making back in this era.

Tainted reputation?

Pierre Fresnay worked with director Henri Decoin on ‘Je suis avec toi’ in 1943. They teamed up three years later for this which could not afford a greater contrast. Fresnay’s reputation had taken a battering in the intervening years because of supposed sympathies with the Vichy regime prompted by his appearances in films for the German controlled ‘Continental’, notably ‘Le Corbeau’. This despite his gallant military service in the previous World War. How quickly people forget. On his release after a brief incarceration, he made two films in 1946, the other being ‘Le Visiteur’ otherwise known, somewhat ironically in his case, as ‘Tainted’! The film under review is excellent, building up to a stupendous finale. Armand Thirard is behind the camera and there is a marvellous score by Henri Dutilleux who seldom alas wrote for film. The intermezzo from his first symphony was used to great effect by Pialat in ‘Sous le Soleil de Satan’ in 1987. The performances by Fresnay and Ledoux are as expected, magnificent but they certainly meet their match in Andree Clement playing the title role. An extraordinary actress of charisma and intensity who made her mark in whichever film she appeared including ‘La Symphonie Pastorale’ and ‘Dieu a besoin des Hommes’, the latter with Fresnay. She was,tragically, to succumb to tuberculosis in her mid-thirties. A talent such as hers comes very seldom but we can at least be grateful that she is captured on celluloid. Watching brilliant actors going about their business is always satisfying and this film is no exception.

The damned girl

“La Fille Du Diable” is the follow-up to “Je Suis Avec Toi” and it features the same lead ,Pierre Fresnay.Whereas the former is a pleasant forgettable little comedy,the latter is one of the greatest French films Noirs of the forties.It is as good as Decoin’s “Non Coupable” and “La Verite Sur Bebe Donge” and its screenplay almost surpasses both of them.

Two disturbing scenes open the movie:first a shoot-out in the city : a gangster,Saget, is surrounded on all sides ;he finally escapes and it’s a mad drive in a drunken man’s car through a nightmarish country.Then the movie takes a divergent way and becomes a psychological thriller.

The gangster who’s got a lot of dough takes refuge in his hometown.Enter a nice doctor (Fernand Ledoux)and a strange girl “the devil’s daughter” (check the title),Isabelle.And then begins a feud which will involve the three of them.The three actors are prodigious.

The nice doctor seems to know too many things about Saget and begins to blackmail him.But it’s not the kind of blackmail you see in your average thriller.He asks for a radiotherapy center cause “too many brats suffer from TB” ,he asks for good things ,which help the whole town.Ledoux’s acting is so subtle we do not know if he’s a saint or if he plays cat and mouse with his “victim”.Unlike Clouzot’s or Duvivier’s worlds,his closest relatives as far as film noir is concerned, Decoin’s is not completely black.

And there’s Isabelle.This role is unique.No matter how much I search my memory,I cannot find a female part which can be compared to her.Once again it may recall some Duvivier’s heroines (“Panique” or “Voici Le temps Des Assassins”) but those women had motives ,love ,money.Isabelle is evil,period.Her father hung himself and she became the hanged man’s daughter.The whole town is against her,she’s outlawed from society.Her reason to live is not to get happiness back but to make sure that others won’t be happy.She will never forgive the young Chatelaine who is respected by the whole community. With her Madonna face and her hair she puts in braids,she epitomizes the tragedy of the human condition.If boys fall in love with her,she uses them to harm her fellow creatures.Andrée Clément gives a spooky terrifying performance and why she did not become a famous actress after such a feat remains a mystery to me.

A shady relationship develops between the devil’s daughter and Saget.She feels they have a lot in common and she too seems to know that this mysterious man is not what he seems .She would like him to be her partner in crime .She feels that they have a lot in common.

The final twist is stunning,as strong as Night Shyamalan ‘s “Unbreakable” which it recalls a little.And Decoin ‘s final is uncompromising: lose all your illusions,some people have not their place in the providential world where the chosen ones go to church on Sunday morning and sing canticles to praise the Lord.

A film that cannot be praised too highly.If by chance you can find it,do not think twice:it’s the French black and white film noir at its best.

NB People interested in Andrée Clément’s short career could have a look on the FRench site “Etoiles Filantes” ,a site devoted to the French actresses who were never big stars but sometimes were as impressive as the stars (and starlets).Clement’s acting attracted Louis Jouvet’s attention and he was the best teacher of his era (as well as one of the best actors)