July 6, 2016

Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Grade: 66/100

Director: Georges Franju
Stars: Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Edith Scob

What it's about. A fascinating and unpleasant French language drama with surreal and horror aspects. Pierre Brasseur is a highly respected surgeon who specializes in transplants. Alida Valli is his loyal assistant. Brasseur has a young adult daughter, Edith Scob, who has lost her face as a result of a car accident caused by Brasseur.

Brasseur directs Valli to kidnap a series of beautiful young women. Brasseur transplants their faces to Scob, but the operations inevitably fail, due to botched surgeries or host rejection of the "donor" tissue. Brasseur also keeps a number of caged dogs as unwitting subjects for graft experiments.

As the body count rises, the incompetent local police (Alexandre Rignault, Claude Brasseur) are roused to tepid but ineffective action. It is the doctor's own daughter who finally ends the evil circle of human sacrifice and despair.

How others will see it. Eyes Without a Face opened to negative reviews, probably from those who were repulsed by the story and/or the surgery scenes. With the passage of time, and perhaps a greater appreciation of the film noir horror, the movie has become the most famous (and certainly the most notorious) among the features directed by Georges Franju. At imdb.com, the film has 16,622 user votes, more than ten times the number of second-place Judex (1963).

The user ratings for Eyes Without a Face are also the highest for a Franju-directed movie. They are consistent at 7.7 out of 10, but women over 45 grade it highest of all, 8.2. They probably like the fact that the misguided doctor and and his loyal assistant get what they deserve, and that it is his own brutally wronged daughter that becomes the avenging angel of the disfigured and murdered young female victims.

How I felt about it. Edith Scob, the disfigured and severely depressed daughter in the present film, was apparently Franju's favorite actress, since she appears in five of his films made between 1959 and 1965. Pierre Brasseur was another favorite, in three films from that time period.

Second-billed Alida Valli is best known as the female lead in The Third Man (1949), but later appeared in her share of horror movies, including Suspiria (1977). Here, the question is, why does she do the doctor's bidding, effectively murdering beautiful young women and disposing of their bodies. Apparently, she is grateful to the doctor for his skill in repairing her face after a tragedy. She may also see herself as a surrogate mother to Edith Scob. But could it be that she is a psychopath, and enjoys her awful actions?

Brasseur takes no such pleasure in the murders. His guilt is palpable, but subordinate to his desire to restore the face of Edith Scob, particularly since he was driving the car at the time of her disfiguring accident.

As for Edith Scob, her motive is, at first, strictly selfish. She wants her face back. Later, once she realizes that such an outcome is impossible, her depression causes her to lash out at Brasseur and Valli, who have, despite their best intentions, caused her so much suffering.

With motivations established, we move on to the film's message. It is another version of Frankenstein, in that the gifted doctor assumes a life-and-death directive to which he is not entitled. He must be punished for his transgression, at the hands of his own creation.