Thursday, April 30, 2020

Joë Caligula - Du suif chez les dabes (1969) French Yé-yé Sexploitation Roughie Noir

"Joe Caligula comes off more like a genre film in new wave drag" (DIE, DANGER, DIE, DIE, KILL!)

 Sort of a Natural Born Killers 25 years before Natural Born Killers.

French Algerian Joe Caligula and his crazy ass crew of slim suit cowboy killers drive up from Marseilles and  hit the City Of Lights to muscle their way into the rackets. These guys are real showboats driving around in a conspicuous tail finned '59 Chevy Impala. They have an M.O. trademark of all slowly slipping on their shades when they are about to pull a job, often accompanied by a frantic, jazzy, drum beat with flute and electric guitar leitmotif. (This may be an homage to Richard Rust slipping on his shades before doing dirty work in Sam Fuller's Underworld U.S.A. and Fuller may be homage-ing Gene Tierney in Leave Her To Heaven )

Directed by José Bénazéraf. Written by Gérard de Niort, José Bénazéraf, Jacques Scandelari,Gérard Trion, Gérard de Niort. and Jean-Pierre Deloux.

Cinematography was by Ronnie Hazlehurst. and the interesting Music was by Jacques Loussier, also diegetic music by Eddy Mitchell, Vince Taylor, Étienne Becker, and Maria Vincent.

Gérard Blain as Joë Caligula
The film stars Gérard Blain as Joë Caligula, Jeanne Valérie as Brigitte, the sister of  Joë, Ginette Leclerc as Ariane, Maria Vincent as Léa, Junie Astor as friend of a gangster, Kim as Paul,
Jean-Jacques Daubin as Alexandre, Pierre Senor as Jean, and Marcel Gassouk as Antoine.

Entrance to whorehouse
The film starts off depicting a high class Parisian whorehouse operation we see a hooker push a john into the house. She telling him in a bored rote.

Hooker: “It’s exciting. Godard… Chabrol… Come on.”

She gets a key from the Madam then heads up stairs. We also meet Paul the Pimp one of the operators of the prostitution racket.

Hooker get key from the Madame

Kim as Paul
Then we cut to Joe Caligula with his sister Brigitte and their crew driving their way up to Paris. They knock over a gas station. They cut the female attendant down in cold blood while she's pumping gas and then shoot the older woman with a Luger when she runs out the the office to see what happened.

'59 Chevy Impala with Tail Fins.

First attendant attack low angle

Sten Guns
The gang goes into the office. They steal the cash and shoot up the back bar with Sten gun. Joe gives the cash to Brigitte, telling her to stash it in her panties. They hop in the Impala bounce out to the highway on the "air ride" and rumble off down the highway heading North.

Tail Fins
It's hinted at, that like Tony Camonte and his sister Cesca a la Scarface (1932) that Joe might have an incestuous relationship with Brigitte. This may explain her sleepwalking PTSD interpretation of her role.

Paris. A bistro. Joe now wearing a bow tie and jacket. Mod Brigitte in her white vinyl cap and white vinyl skirt and silver gogo boots. His crew is disguised wearing Beatles wigs all put on their sunglasses and pull out their guns They rob all the patrons.

Joe putting on the shades and Brigitte

Robbing the bistro patrons notice Beatles wig
Cut to Joe and a blonde in bed. It may be a flashback but my French isn't that good.

From that we jump cut and see the crew has managed to snatch the big vice racket boss a pimp named Alex (Jean-Jacques Daubin). Joe wearing brass knuckles is brutally "negotiating" with him, at a coal dock along the Seine. Their plan is to torture, kill and intimidating the old generation of gangsters and their molls, until they either pay up or die.

the abduction of Alex

We cut back to the whorehouse.  Alex has called a meeting of all the the other bosses on how to deal with Joe Caligula. Joe is upsetting the apple cart. The bosses have had it easy greasing the skids. We cut to a shot of Paul the Pimp getting ready to go out on the streets. He is now wearing a shoulder holster, for protection. He views how he looks in the mirror and acts like it's been a long time since he's had to go armed.

Alex (Jean-Jacques Daubin).

Meanwhile Joe is acquiring some more expatriate Algerian "crew" at an Algerian juke joint hangout . He also adds car theft to his list of crimes stealing an XKE Jaguar with Brigitte. The Jaguar becomes his new Paris sled.

jacking a jaguar
Joe's next job is hitting a jewelry store. We cut again to a scene where they have another kidnapped gangster. He's trussed up and they are torturing him.

Cut to another dead gangster Antoine (Marcel Gassouk) who is dumped out of a Citroën and set on fire outside of his Tahiti Club a tick-tacky tiki bar. They spray the front window with bullets, and drive off. The gangsters widow nightclub singer Lea (Maria Vincent) calls Paul and tells him what happened.

Tahiti Club

Lea (Maria Vincent)

During the funeral procession for the dead gangster to the cemetery, Joe stands up in a convertible heading in the opposite direction and sprays the procession with machine gun fire. However he doesn't hit anyone.

Joe Sten Guns the funeral procession

We next get a sequence that plays like a fashion show of trendy men's mourning couture and widows weeds at the grave site.

After the funeral, Lea wanting revenge, decides to try and find Joe Caligula's hideout on her own. She makes the rounds of various hangouts asking about a “blonde with empty eyes” and her crazy male escort.

Cut to Paul picking up the weekly cut at a high class strip club where we get to see a couple of very good strip routines and we see later a torch singer Maria Vincent impressively do her act.

Strip Routine


The next club robbery goes wrong for Joe with most of his new crew shot down by old guard who were tipped off by and waiting. Joe makes it back to his juke joint rendezvous but the gangsters are again zeroed in on him.

Joe makes his escape to the roof and then into the neighboring building through an open window. Joe meets Brigitte back where he parked the XKE and they escape to their hideout in an old warehouse.

Joe retaliates with another mob boss assassination. It all goes Noirsville for Joe when Brigitte rats him out.


Algerian Juke Joint

Lea Marie Vincent nightclub act

Lea looking for the girl with the empty eyes

La Roulotte Club chez Django Reinhardt

José Bénazéraf who was born in Casablanca, was a French filmmaker and producer who, like his similar US Sexploitation/Grindhouse counterparts, eventually just specialized in schlock horror or erotic films. They never had quite the Hollywood budgets or top of the line talent or artistry in all departments needed to produce perfect product. Even low budget Hollywood "B" films had the resources of the studios to tap.

These independent productions are usually all over the map in quality but they do show occasional flashes of brilliance in story and style or they'll have interesting sequences, or depict archival footage of the world as it actually was with their guerrilla style cinematography.

Joë Caligula nicely captures the tragically hip Yé-yé era with its tres cool mod fashions, franglais-ed  rock & roll and obsequious pop god posters of Gram Parsons and Francoise Hardy festooning cafes, bistros, walls.

The film also has some great sequences to watch for. As mentioned earlier there is a great sequence, shot in some Pigalle nightclub, that contains a complete, quite classy and unusual strip routine of two blondes dancing to Vince Taylor and his Play-Boys cover of Trouble. Another great sequence has Brigitte walking around Place Pigalle at night past the famous clubs including La Roulotte Club chez Django Reinhardt. Another favorite sequence is the capture of Maria Vincent whisper singing some sped up boop-a-doop song that I wish I knew the name of.

It's an unexpected fun film with expected flaws, but also with some nice surprises. 6-7/10

"Formally, it is quite a splendid film, in contrasted black and white, with long silent, contemplative scenes, one of the best strip-tease scene I ever saw, plenty of visual style, pokerface humor (at the beginning a hooker tells to a client she will speak to him of Godard and Chabrol ;-)  ). The jazz and rock'n'roll soundtrack is nice, too. José Bénazéraf considered it as his masterpiece, it seems a reasonable point of view. Later on he became a porn director, as French producers were not prone to finance his kind of exploitation films with artsy dialogs. Whatever he became later, with this one he is better than his Nouvelle Vague rivals, less boring, less hypocrite, less bourgeois."