Tuesday, October 30, 2018

2018 Blind Spot Series: Eyes Without a Face

I couldn't let October pass without crossing one more off my Blind Spot list. Of course, we're going for horror. If you want to read more posts in the Blind Spot Challenge, click on the site of our host Sofia, Returning Videotapes. If you stick around here, let's talk about...

Why did I pick it? I've been aware of this movie for quite some time. I had planned on watching it at some point, but wasn't really in a rush to do so. Then, two things happened over the course of the last couple years. The first thing was you guys. Eyes Without a Face" began popping up in my little corner of the blogosphere quite often. Either one of you blogged about it, mentioned it in your comments here, or commented about it on one of the blogs I frequent. The other thing was I started spending a lot of time at a site called List Challenges. If you're unfamiliar, it's a site where users create lists and other users go through them to see how many they've experienced. This movie shows up on plenty of the movie lists. Finally, I got tired of feeling left out, and here we are.

Eyes Without a Face tries to take full advantage of it's scant 88 minute runtime and gets rolling right away. We open on a frantic woman driving along at night with a body in the back seat. Eventually, she pulls over and dumps the body in a lake. Apparently she didn't do that good a job because, almost immediately, Dr. Genessier (Pierre Brasseur) is called by the authorities to identify the same body He does, confirming that it is his missing daughter, Christiane (Edith Scob). However, we quickly find out Christiane isn't really dead. We also learn that the woman who dumped the body, Louise (Alida Valli), is his live-in assistant. What gives?

Some time ago, it turns out, Dr. Genessier caused a car accident that left Christiane basically faceless. Ever since, he and Louise have been kidnapping young women and performing face transplants. The problem is Christiane's body keep rejecting the faces. Dr. Genessier is a persistent fellow, so we go from there.

This film has lots of things going for it. One of the biggest is that it develops the main characters thoroughly, yet never slows down the pace. It's largely dialogue driven, but conversations push the plot forward in a compelling fashion. The mounting crimes juxtaposed with the police trying to figure out what's going on keeps things moving along nicely. What really intrigues us, though, are the relationships between Dr. Genessier and the two women in his life. We know we can't abide what the doctor and Louise are doing, but we understand his reasons Louise is the easiest person to hate, but we eventually learn why she's involved, giving us cause to pause. Christiane has our empathy from minute one. By the end, however, we're not sure how we feel about her, either. This rollercoaster of emotions never really scares us, per se, but it it does make us uncomfortable at various points along the way, including the ending.

One of those uncomfortable moments comes from the film's lone instance of what could be considered gore. We get to see the doctor perform a face removal. Given that this movie was made in 1960, I fully expected he camera to cut away, no pun intended, not showing us anything. Instead, we mostly stay focused on the doc's handiwork with the scalpel. Though I was surprised they sowed it, I was more surprised how real it looks, even almost 60 years after its release. On the other hand, another much simpler effect doesn't work at all. We can easily identify a padded suit, and it threatesn to ruin the climax.

I like this film a lot. It explores lots of the themes I spoke of during my list of favorite Frankenstein inspired movies. There's certainly a case to be made for including this moivie on that list. I may even retroactively add it. The film also moves quickly and leaves us with things to ponder. The performances, which I haven't mentioned, are really good across the board. Pierre Brasseur gives a wonderful conflicted genius. We really understand that he's a firm believer in the old adage that the ends justifies the means. Alida Valli is just flat out creepy as Louise. It's her job to coerce young girls to come to the doctor's house and the ease with which she approaches and chats them up is unnerving. Finally, Edith Scob, often wearing an emotionless mask not much unlike the one worn by Michael Myers in the Halloween franchise, overcomes her visage to create a compelling character. The work of the three combined helps us empathize with or disdain them for reasons that fell organically human, not just because this one or that is labeled the hero or the villain. In reality, none of them rises to the level of hero. Our feelings about them are just as confusing as the ones they themselves are experiencing, with Louise being the uncomplicated exception.

Forgive me for what I'm going to say next.

As good as this movie is, I'd be all about a remake that added 20 or 30 minutes to the runtime. True, this is a dialogue driven film. What's also true is that I praised it for making excellent use of that trait. However, it can't escape the one flaw all such movies have. Tons of that dialogue is expository. We learn of so many important events simply because one person informs another about them. I'm a big proponent in "show, don't tell." Many of these events are things that could and should be shown. Will that make it a bloodier affair? Probably. Will fans of this movie be offended that someone has the gall to remake a beloved classic? Almost certainly. So what? Let's be clear, I'm not advocating for dumbing it down in favor upping the body count. I am suggesting this film could be enhanced by letting things play out before our eyes rather than just telling us about them. There's no denying that Eyes Without a Face tells a wonderful story in the time it's allotted. It's also a movie that has left us a lot that could be expanded.


  1. I've never heard of this until now. It kind of sounds like The Skin I Live In. I would definitely watch this.

    1. I definitely thought about that movie while watching this one.

  2. I'm pretty much with you on your opinion here. My two-word review of this was "face meat." That's a hugely disturbing sequence because it doesn't pull away and goes through the whole process.

    I also think you're right that this could use a remake. I'm rarely the guy who wants to remake movies left and right, but it's been decades since this came out and, as you say, there are some places where this has opportunities for more storytelling rather than simply telling a story.

    To Brittani's point, though, there are some real similarities to The Skin I Live In, although they are really different in a lot of ways.

    1. Ahhh..."face meat." That's a perfect description.

      I'm not one looking to remake everything, either, but yeah, there is definitely room for more storytelling.

      No doubt, The Skin I Live In took inspiration from this, but man does it go off in its own direction.

  3. I'm glad you liked this. This is a great film although I would sort of disagree respectfully on having the film being remade since there was a remake of the film of sorts a few years ago in Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In. Yet, it was based on a novel that I'm sure was inspired by Eyes Without a Face but with great extremes. Still, I wouldn't say no to a remake of this film if it's done in the right hands by a filmmaker who knows the film front to back and maybe could update it. The fact that you wanted it to be longer is proof that film worked then and could still work.

    1. I love The Skin I Live In, but I'd call it heavily inspired by this film, but really taking things in new, even more uncomfortable directions. But your point is well taken.

  4. I'd say I appreciated this more than liked it. It's very skillfully done and disturbing in a purposeful way without trying to gross out the audience or play down to the lowest common denominator.

    I had heard of the film for years before I watched it however not being a horror lover both the title and the poster kept me at bay. Then I found out that Alida Valli (such a great name!) was in it and being somewhat familiar with her work, The Third Man (an excellent film), Senso (also good and a feast for the eye) The Paradine Case (an off day miscast Hitchcock film) The Miracle of the Bells (an interesting misfire with Frank Sinatra as a priest!) Il Grido (a solid Antonioni picture) and a few others, I figured considering the vintage of the film it would be something that was worth exploring and it was. Alida's well cast as Louise, she was a very fine actress (with quite the eventful offscreen life) but projected a chilly removed persona (something that kept her from American stardom though she was a huge star in Europe.) which is ideal for her role here. Her fine work is matched by her two costars.

    I can't see myself watching it again but I'm glad to have finally caught up with it.

  5. I’ve heard of this film but I still have not seen it. I hope to be able to see it one day