If you have Orson Welles and a candelabra, you've pretty much got your movie done already, as we can glean in this still from Claude Chabrol's 1971 Ten Days Wonder a.k.a. La Decade Prodigeuse. It's by a long chalk Claude Chabrol's most bizarre film, even though it comes from a relatively normal source: a 1948 pulp novel by the duo of mystery writers known as "Ellery Queen". Not having read the book, I can only wonder if the novel was existentialism disguised as pulp, or if the essentially blasphemous nature of the story kept it from being adapted into a film back in the 1940s. It would have been a crazy hunk of film noir. This is a plot that needs every shadow it can get, but Chabrol was working in the lurid Technicolor of the early 1970s, a color scheme that's worsened in the grimy prints and in bad home video transfers upon which this film is most commonly seen. Thanks to the scratches, the surface grime, and Chabrol's discomfort with the English language, Ten Day's Wonder takes some getting used to. At 3am, Ten Days Wonder would look like a masterpiece.

At noon, when I saw it, it's camp that stays compelling because of the deep-dyed conviction brought to it by Welles. Everyone knows the story of the film student gone to heaven, to find that the Heavenly Throne is located in the middle of a replica of Xanadu from Citizen Kane: "That's where God lives. He's delusional, he thinks he's Orson Welles." Here's the movie where Orson Welles thinks he's God, and he has more than a few of the characters here convinced that he is. Blackout: "This wonder, as wonders last, lasted nine days." (The slang expression "nine days wonder" meant a scandal that came and went with the newspaper headlines.) We begin in a cheap hotel somewhere on the Rue Bayard in Paris. Charles (Anthony Perkins) wakes up with blood on his hands and no good idea of how he got there; the tilt-a-whirl camera indicates his head is still spinning.

categories Columns, Cinematical