A gray view of Lyons provides both the first and the last image, as if adapting Zola weren't enough for Marcel Carné to reference the circular fatalism of his early works. The stifling drama is laid out early, an outdoors stroll suggested by Thérèse (Simone Signoret) spoiled by the latest of wimpy husband Jacques Duby's colds; a trip to the movies is vetoed severely by mother-in-law Sylvie, for "those pictures are bad for you," and Signoret "dreams too much," besides. Trucker Raf Vallone hails from Italy, bringing along Ossessione intimations; he first spots Signoret while carrying a smashed Duby in his arms, a black cat later witnesses their first illicit kiss. No Serge Reggiani, Duby's wispiness is much closer to sinister Clouzot territory, while a cut from his scheming to a pan around a wedding celebration reveals a deeper debt to the Nouvelle Vague than the upstarts were willing to admit; the clandestine couple meets in the night express, Vallone hurls Duby out of the speeding car during their struggle, the reflection of another train is ominously reflected on their faces. The locomotive rushing toward the screen is an image for Lang, who in a year would give it the definite representation in Human Desire; by comparison, Carné and Charles Spaak reduce both fate and Zola into a polished bummer, tidily gloomy. The "lack of passion" Duby uses as an excuse to keep Signoret from participating in weekly monopoly matches certainly extends to the stolid fatalism, so Carné, who knows that a fine rotter makes a movie, supplies two. Paralyzed from a stroke upon learning of sonny's demise, Sylvie pours her accusatory fury into her peepers, her glare burning holes through the sets; and, as the smirky witness who rides over for a bit of extortion, Roland Lesaffre evokes the Jules Berry villains of the director's heyday, gliding on oily theatricality until he's flattened by a barreling load of irony. With Marcel André, Martial Rèbe, Paul Frankeur, and Maria-Pia Casilio. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce