I've read some good tributes to Jeanne Moreau since she died on July 31st. Over at his blog, Detectives Beyond Borders, Peter Rozovsky wrote a short bit about the film that made her an international name, Louis Malle's black and white crime film, Elevator to the Gallows (1958). And at the movie criticism site, Roger Ebert.com, Dan Callahan presents a superb career overview:
There is one film she stars in that neither piece mentions, though, and I think it's worth talking about for crime film fans. That's Francois Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black, from 1968. The movie, in color, is an adaptation of a William Irish (Cornell Woolrich) novel, and Truffaut makes no bones about it being an homage to Alfred Hitchcock, a director he loved and who he interviewed for a book.
In The Bride Wore Black, Moreau plays a woman who, one by one, over the course of the movie, kills five men. In each case, she assumes a different personality and look. She finds a way to get close to each man she has targeted and, if it's helpful to her purpose, to make herself attractive to her intended victim. One is a lonely bachelor, one a politician, one a hedonistic, partying type, and so on. Not until near the end of the film do we learn why she has sought out and killed these men, but her reason turns out to be a good one. It's revenge, pure and simple, for something they did to her, and in flashback we see what they did.
The Bride Wore Black is not a great film and it's certainly nowhere near being Truffaut's best. As you watch and the killings occur, with Moreau's character crossing another name off the list of five names she has in a notebook, it becomes clear that she will almost certainly eliminate each man she wants to get. The film doesn't have all that much suspense. But once you realize that, you allow yourself to indulge in the pleasure of watching her character carry out a self-appointed job with wit, ruthlessness, and precision. The role allows Moreau to play act a different type of woman each time she closes in on a target, and it's fun to watch her operate. She is by turns reserved, playful, seductive, reflective, coldly murderous,. And it's apparent from how she transforms herself to appeal to each man she hunts that she is a master psychologist.
The initital critical reaction to the film, at least in France, was poor, and Truffaut wound up expressing dislike for the movie. Audiences disagreed with the critics and him, however, and The Bride Wore Black did well at the box office. It deserved to. It's not a masterpiece, but Truffaut working at slightly below his best is still better than almost everybody else. And if you like Jeanne Moreau, chances are you'll enjoy the film a lot. Playing about six different women in one woman, she employs her intense expressiveness to maximum effect. Revenge has rarely been served up more satisfactorily.