The following is taken from my “Cannes Journal” in the September-October 1973 issue of Film Comment and corrected in a few particulars in April 2016, after seeing the restored 128-minute director’s cut on a wonderful new Blu-Ray from Olive Films. — J.R.
In theory, the Marché du Film is merely one division of the festival out of many (official selections, Directors’ Fortnight, Critics’ Week, etc.); in practice, every film and every person attending is on the marketplace, to purchase or to be purchased, and all the rest is journalistic euphemism. It was there, at any rate, that I came across Samuel Fuller’s latest film.
Not all of DEAD PIGEON ON BEETHOVEN STREET is peaches and cream, but the beginning is extraordinary — a brilliant burst of action that illustrates the title in lightning flashes — and the mad finale in a weapons room is not far behind. Fuller’s habitual obeisance to the title composer reaches an apogee of sorts in a scene set in the Beethoven Museum, where the head of one of the leads (Glenn Corbett) is cut off by the top of the frame in order to give one of the Master’s pianos a privileged place in the composition. Some of the personal/filmic references get pretty Baroque, too: a clip of RIO BRAVO dubbed into German; a snippet from ALPHAVILLE to reveal an earlier acting part of Christa Lang, Fuller’s wife (seen as a prostitute servicing Akim Tamiroff); Stéphane Audran doing a guest bit as a lesbian named Dr. Bogdanovich. If this all sounds like a movie freak’s nightmare, I can only confess that Sam seemed to have a whale of a time making this two-bit classic, and I for one had a whale of a time watching it. It may not have production values like ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE, a conformist crowd pleaser shown in the Grande Salle — a film that aims to out-gross the highest grossers by synthesizing at least six other “hits,” heartily recommended to all viewers with like temperaments — but by God, it has style. As is customary with Fuller, the acting veers from woodblock-hard to awful-ugly (automatically turning every face into a mug shot), the violence is corrosive, the double crosses mutual, the implications perfectly bananas, the imagination fertile. As a modest entry in the Louis Feuillade tradition, this is a minor joy.