Rider on the Rain (Le passager de la pluie) Review
While her husband is away, Mellie (Marlène Jobert) is raped by an intruder in her house. She kills the man and dumps his body in the sea. Then she meets a mysterious American, Dobbs (Charles Bronson) who seems to know what has happened...
Written by Sebastien Japrisot, Rider on the Rain - made in France under the title Le passager de la pluie, and more about the different versions below – is a stylish thriller which resolves into a cat-and-mouse game between Dobbs and Mellie (whose full name turns out to be Mélancolie, rather preciously). René Clément made his name in the 1950s with films like Jeux interdits and La bataille du rail. He was an avowed admirer of Hitchcock and had previously trod in the Master's footsteps with 1960's Plein soleil, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr Ripley. Rider on the Rain is indebted to Hitchcock's work, being a thriller that is powered by character rather than action (although there is some action), and not least in its whole theme of guilt and its transference. There's an explicit nod to Hitchcock in the character name of the rapist, which I'll leave you to discover. Clément does make use of late-Sixties permissiveness in the rape scene early on, something Hitchcock himself would make use of in Frenzy. (This scene was almost certainly edited on the original British cinema release for a AA certificate, allowing those over fourteen to see the film. In its uncut form on the present DVD, it earns the film an 18.)
Rider on the Rain was a hit across Europe, ensuring Charles Bronson's stardom there. Although no-one would ever claim him to be a great actor, that's not the same as being a star: he inhabits a persona and exudes a charisma that seems effortless. In his late forties at the time, it helps that he's in great shape, even showing off his physique in one shirtless scene. However, despite his top billing, he doesn't appear until over twenty minutes in, leaving Marlène Jobert to hold the film together. There are only two or three scenes with Bronson that she isn't in as well. When the two of them are on screen together, there's undeniable chemistry between them. Jill Ireland (who had married Bronson in 1968) turns up in a small role as Mellie's couturier Nicole. Marc Mazza, as the rapist, is suitably menacing in a non-speaking role. Francis Lai's score is suitably atmospheric.
The film may be a little too slow-burning for some, and it's certainly visually dated. (Not only is it shot in that slightly orange-toned late Sixties Eastmancolour, there are some very late Sixties fashions and hairstyles on display.) This is a film that I remember being on TV quite a lot in the late 70s and 80s (although I never saw it) and is less shown now, so full marks for Optimum for releasing it on DVD.
Rider on the Rain is released by Optimum on a dual-layered disc encoded for Region 2 only.
The film was shot in two versions, French and English. This is more than simply providing a different soundtrack, as clearly most scenes were shot twice. Any text on screen is in the appropriate language: the credits, the epigraph from Alice in Wonderland at the start, the date/time captions and the early scene where Mellie writes “I'm flat broke” or “Je n'ai plus de sous” in lipstick on her mirror. In the English version, there's a change of ambience every time Bronson speaks: he and Jill Ireland are clearly delivering their lines in English. However, the French cast are doing the same, but their dialogue has a slightly hollow sound betraying their being postsynched. In the French version, Bronson and Ireland are still speaking in English but are being dubbed into French (Bronson by the expatriate director John Berry), while the French actors are speaking with their own voices in French. A short scene where Dobbs meets his employers, and a snatch of a song Ireland sings, are in English in both versions. The two versions have different running times: 109:33 for the English version and 113:00 for the French. As far as I can tell from one viewing of each, there are no extra scenes in the French version. The discrepancy is most likely explained by the fact that this is quite a dialogue-driven film and French is a naturally wordier language than English. (Judging by the BBFC site, it was the French version – running 117:07 before cuts and without PAL speed-up – that was released in British cinemas, though whether it was released subtitled or dubbed or both, I do not know.)
Both versions have separate transfers, accessible from separate menus. Both are anamorphic in the ratio of 1.85:1. The French version is noticeably the brighter of the two (and with thicker matting lines) and the English version has more print damage, but both are quite acceptable. Skin tones tend towards the orange, but that's characteristic of other Eastmancolour films of the time. Screengrabs follow from the opening shot, English version first.
The soundtrack is the original mono in both cases, and I've described it above. Given the inevitable limitations it's well balanced. Optional English subtitles are provided for the French version, but none for the English version, or indeed the English-language bits in the French version, but that is, as I've said many times before, Optimum policy. There are no extras either.