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    Mississippi Fatale

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    In a 1988 review of Francis Nevins Jr.’s extensive biography Cornell Woolrich: First You Dream, Then You Die, Los Angeles Times film critic Charles Champlin observed: “The movies could hardly get along without Cornell Woolrich. Hollywood has made at least 23 films from his stories and novels….The world of Woolrich’s crime fiction – dark, tortured, murderous, doom-haunted – was perfectly suited for the screen, never more so than in the days when Hollywood used black-and-white to perfection. Woolrich does not colorize well: he was the first, great inspiration for film noir.” On occasion, the author was adapted quite well in color: think Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Jean Delannoy’s Obsession (both 1954) and two other French thrillers made by the inestimable Francois Truffaut, The Bride Wore Black (1968) and Mississippi Mermaid (1969), the latter of which debuted in the U.S. this week in 1970. Based on Woolrich’s Waltz into Darkness and making both ravishingly scenic and acutely intimate use of widescreen Dyaliscope, Mississippi Mermaid is the tale of a rich tobacco planter (Jean-Paul Belmondo) who corresponds with a woman via classified ads who agrees to journey to his Reunion Island home (off the African coast in the Indian Ocean) and become his wife. The lovely siren who arrives – in the person of beautiful Catherine Deneuve – is not the lady of the photos supplied in the letters but is a bewitching substitute whose explanations are fuzzy. Their initially idyllic marriage doesn’t last; she soon afterward disappears after emptying his bank accounts – and the emotionally damaged, physically stricken magnate picks up the pieces of his shattered body and soul to track her down. When he finds her, reestablished in a new identity, his consuming love does not allow him to kill her. The femme fatale with a tragic history has nailed her mark – but could this icy, calculating siren have met her match as well? Of this tortured couple, played with cool-fire precision by screen icons Belmondo and Deneuve, Twilight Time’s Julie Kirgo astutely writes: “A timid, virginal, quiet bourgeois, he realizes at the point of death that she has brought adventure and excitement into his drab, isolated life. But similarly, he has brought security, trust and genuine love into hers. Are they not, in some sense, the ideal neurotic couple? Together, stumbling into a future that the film deliberately renders as uncertain, they can both acknowledge that love is a joy – and yet painful beyond description.” In true Woolrich fashion, it’s noir in which nothing is simply black or white, but the journey is spellbinding. Both The Bride Wore Black and Mississippi Mermaid spell their sinister secrets on seductive Twilight Time hi-def Blu-rays.