Joy House (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stuart Galbraith IV
  • Review Date: Aug 04, 2023
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Joy House (Blu-ray Review)


René Clément

Release Date(s)

1964 (May 30, 2023)


Cité Films/CIPRA/MGM (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: B

Joy House (Blu-ray)

Buy it Here!


Joy House (Les félins, “Felines,” 1964) is an unusual production. Though it stars French actor Alain Delon, and was made in France by French director René Clément, 95% of the dialogue is in English, and most of the speaking parts are played by native-English speaking actors, including co-leads Jane Fonda and Lola Albright, as well as supporting players including George Gaynes, Sorrell Brooke and English character actor Arthur Howard. MGM had previously provided financing on Clément’s The Day and the Hour, another such production with Simone Signoret and Stuart Whitman in exchange for distribution rights, and signed a five-picture deal with Delon around this time. Presumably an incentive for this arrangement was to use funds MGM had tied up in France.

The film is a visually stylish but ultimately wearying mystery-thriller. It starts with a bang but is overloaded with double-crosses to the point where all credibility goes out the window and has no likeable characters. It’s the kind of movie where every character is aware of everyone else’s secret motives yet each coyly feigns ignorance.

The story opens with an American mobster (Gaynes) and his gang kidnapping and torturing a confession out of Marc (Delon), after learning the gangster’s wife had been having an affair with the French playboy. Moments before they plan to kill him and dump his body, Marc manages to escape. The gangsters (including Brooke) scatter about Monte Carlo looking for him, but Marc hides out at a Christian mission for the homeless, where wealthy widow Barbara (Lola Albright) and her niece, Melinda (Jane Fonda), volunteer.

Vaguely aware that the gangsters are after Marc, icy beauty Barbara offers him a job as her chauffeur—she owns a swell limousine with a neat-o plexiglass top. There’s something off about their relationship: he’s insolent yet she mysteriously puts up with his rude behavior. Melinda is more openly friendly but also a bit strange, and very quickly she falls in love with him, though he secretly plans to escape to Paris at the earliest opportunity. Meanwhile, it soon becomes clear Barbara is communicating through a wall-mounted mirror with Vincent (André Oumansky), a kept man, literally, living in secret rooms accessible only through hidden panels.

Marc’s kidnapping and escape is excitingly realized, staged in a way that Marc’s chances look awfully bleak, and when he seizes a moment to get away, for a long time it sure looks like he’s going to be recaptured and murdered. Here, Delon is athletic like Jean-Paul Belmondo in these scenes, including participating in what looks like a dangerous stunt: the gangsters’ car skidding sideways to a stop, almost hitting him.

The film obviously plays on Marc’s similarity to Tom Ripley in Clément’s celebrated Purple Noon (Plein soleil, 1960) but here Delon’s dangerous good looks are compromised a bit by having to speak almost the entirety of the film in English. He’s not as stiff as, say, Toshiro Mifune was in his English-speaking parts. Mifune clearly learned those roles phonetically, whereas Delon clearly does speak the language, albeit with a thick French accent. Nevertheless, his performance is slightly halting and less confident and thus a notch below his usual abilities speaking his native French.

The bigger problem is that Melinda and especially Barbara are all too clearly up to no good themselves, each behaving eccentrically while simultaneously attracted to him. His growing desperation to get away from both them and the gangsters on his trail helps make the character a bit more sympathetic, but the movie audience can’t really identify with any of the characters and the fact that all the major players are trying to manipulate and double-cross one another becomes a little exasperating, especially by the ironic yet completely predictable “twist” ending.

This was Jane Fonda’s first French film; she also appeared in Roger Vadim’s Circle of Love / La ronde later that same year and married Vadim in 1965, Fonda appearing in a number of European productions into the 1970s. In Joy House she doesn’t really have a firm grasp of the part, naturalistic in some scenes, manipulative and perhaps crazy in a very actorly way in others. She admitted later that her French was not that good—I think that’s her American-accented voice in the French-dubbed version—and she had some problems with director Clément, who she says sexually harassed her by trying to lure her into bed for “rehearsals.”

More memorable is Lola Albright who, at 40 a dozen years Fonda’s senior, had been in Hollywood films since 1947. However, she’s best remembered as profoundly sexy nightclub singer Edie Hart in Peter Gunn. When that show ended Albright continued to stretch as an actress, particularly in A Cold Wind in August (1961), in which she played an aging burlesque stripper. Joy House was another obvious stretch, and one can’t help but wonder if Albright was an early influence on Fonda, who at this point in her career was very much where Albright had been a decade before.

Joy House was just Lalo Schifrin’s second film score. It’s impressively brassy, confident and even experimental at times, if a little overemphatic in a couple of scenes.

Kino’s Blu-ray retains MGM’s logo from the period (featuring its rattiest-looking Leo the Lion) but sources a 2K restoration by France’s Gaumont. Filmed in black-and-white (2.35:1) Franscope by Henri Decaë (Le Samourai), the image is a little washed out but generally looks great, the DTS-HD Master Audio (mono) supported by good English subtitles.

The French-dubbed version is included, with Delon and Fonda, but presumably not Albright, lending their own voices, though their lip movements don’t match. The audio is a little better on the French track but first-time viewers are advised to watch the English-language version anyway. Also included is a new audio commentary track featuring film historians and Kino regulars Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson, as well as a longish (3:21) French trailer.

Though ultimately disappointing, I was delighted by the opportunity to see this unusual production, which is undeniably visually stylish and clever at times. Recommended.

- Stuart Galbraith IV