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Category:    Home > Reviews > Fantasy > Drama > Comedy > Music > Politics > France > Les Visiteurs du Soir (1942/aka The Devil’s Envoys/Criterion Blu-ray)

Les Visiteurs du Soir (1942/aka The Devil’s Envoys/Criterion Blu-ray)


Picture: B     Sound: B-     Extras: B-     Film: B-



Just before making his epic Children Of Paradise (1945, reviewed on Criterion DVD elsewhere on this site and now on Criterion Blu-ray all upgraded, save the controversy of the image being a bit softer than maybe it should be), Marcel Carné made what would seem like a simple fantasy love story with Les Visiteurs du Soir (1942/aka The Devil’s Envoys) that plays as a morality tale on its own, but means more when you realize he made it while working with Nazis looking over his shoulder.


Im it, two singers (Arietty and Alain Curry) show up on horseback singing, playing instruments and looking for a private event to play.  A working man outside of a castle tells them of an event where they would be welcome and immediately, we see they are also capable of magic when they give the man with an empty chain a live bear out of thin air to enjoy.  Then they get into the party, almost crashing it and when they sing their song of love, they subversively upset everything, yet they also start to separately seduce a couple of the people there.


Things get more interesting when their boss Satan aka Le diable (Jules Berry) attends the party (in black) and causes additional havoc, but with darker turns in what already has strange, dark, even disturbing overtones to begin with.


I don’t know if Carné and/or screenplay writers Jacques Prévert and Pierre Laroche had seen the 1939 Wizard Of Oz, but the film plays as a dark satire of the MGM Technicolor classic from midgets with ugly distorted faces (think the horrors of WWI or possibly the Holocaust, i.e., tortured people disfigured or looksism being used to ridicule and kill people) to near musical moments that do not make this a Musical by any means and even less so than anything in the MGM family-aimed film.  Carné’s film is not for children and families in general, so it is not just another fantasy picture like the Lord Of The Rings or Hobbit series.


More is going on here, though the film is simple, too simple (maybe on purpose so no one was shot to death?) to know otherwise unless you know the behind-the-scenes history.  Still, it is a remarkable film in that it got made where it got =made and holds up as well as it does.  Costumes and sets are superior, the actors and casting very effective and overall feel consistent as the tone Carné has here carries over to Children Of Paradise (which would be his next film) in a big way.  This may not be the classic that film is, obviously, but Les Visiteurs du Soir is an underseen, well-crafted film that more people should see at least once and this Criterion Blu-ray is the best way to do that outside of a really good film print.



The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black and white digital High Definition image transfer comes from a 35mm fine grain interpositive that has been restored, then further refined for this presentation and I can say without a doubt that this film has never looked better.  There are still issues with the some frame and shots, but they are minor, with this looking like monochrome film of the time very much.  Director of Photography Roger Hubert (Gance’s J’Accuse, Children Of Paradise) gives this an elegant look throughout, with hints of darkness and visual effects implemented smoothly for the most part for its time.  The uncompressed PCM 1.0 Mono track is from a new optical sound print duplicate off of the nitrate original and the film has never sounded better, showing its age sonically, but being clean and as clear as a film of its time made under its circumstances could be pretty much.  The combination will shock those use to previous copies of the film.


Extras include yet another nicely illustrated booklet on the film including informative text and Michael Atkinson’s essay Love In The Ruins, while the Blu-ray adds the Original Theatrical Trailer and a 2009 French TV program on the making of the film that also includes more on Carné’s career and the politics behind making this film under Nazi occupation.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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