Henri-Georges Clouzot (“The Raven”/”The Wages of Fear”/”“Diabolique”) directs one of his lesser efforts and co-writes with Jean Ferry an adaptation of Abbe Prevost’s 18th century lusty classic French novel ‘Manon Lescaut.’ It’s updated to immediately after World War II France. It was shoddily made, the characters were sketchily drawn, the lead couple is unlikable, the screenplay was ridiculously inept and the novel’s bawdiness was compromised to make it more Hollywood safe, nevertheless Clouzot’s craftsmanship and style made an impression at the Venice Festival and it won Best Film in 1949. It did a good job capturing the sleazy atmosphere of the low-life underground scene in a post-war Paris.
Manon Lescaut (Cecile Aubry) is a young baby-faced diminutive resident of Normandy, who after the liberation of her town by the French Resistance is accused of being a collaborator by the hostile lynch-minded mob. Resistance fighter Robert Desgrieux (Michel Auclair) falls for her and they flee to Paris, where she becomes involved with smuggling in the black market through her brother Leon’s (Serge Reggiani) connections and becomes a prostitute in a brothel when she yearns to live a more luxurious life. The manipulated Robert, wanting a proper wife, becomes insanely jealous by her sordid involvements and commits a murder. He becomes wanted by the police and they escape together as stowaways on a freighter filled with Jewish refugees going to Palestine, but are caught by a crewman and turned over to the captain (Henry Gilbert). In flashback we observe their perverse love connection and sad story of survival, as they are questioned by the captain. It leads them to the deserts of Palestine, where they are slain by Arabs while searching for a new identity and life.
Why Robert would throw away his life for the trampy Manon is a head-scratcher, one that was not convincingly portrayed on screen and thereby left me uninvolved with the film’s slovenly entanglements.