DirectorJean-Jacques Vierne/Philippe Condroyer
Release Date(s)1961/1964 (July 4, 2023)
Studio(s)RKO Radio Pictures (Kino Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: F
For reasons not exactly clear, the charming Tintin stories of Belgian cartoonist Hergé—24 bande dessinée albums—definitely not comic books, fans would argue—never really caught on in the United States. Even Steven Spielberg’s $135 million computer-animated film adaptation, The Adventures of Tintin (2011), failed to ignite much interest. In much of the rest of the world it’s another story. Tintin albums have been translated into more than 70 languages and have sold hundreds of millions of copies. Here in Kyoto, Japan, for instance, for decades there’s been a shop devoted exclusively to the sale of Tintin merchandise: calendars, sweatshirts, and lavish statuettes costing hundreds, even thousands of dollars.
Perhaps the closest American equivalent to Tintin were the humorous adventure stories of Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck and his nephews created by artist-storyteller Carl Barks that blossomed during Tintin’s heyday. Unlike most standard comic books, the Barks and Hergé stories were epic, Treasure Island-type grand adventures, beautifully drawn and driven by carefully defined, humorous characters.
Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece (1961) and Tintin and the Blue Oranges (1964) were French-made live-action adaptations of Hergé’s characters, though their stories were original, written for the screen. They have similar production values, but there are subtle yet critical differences between the two. Golden Fleece is a delight, Blue Oranges is a bit of slog.
In Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece (Tintin et le mystère de la toison d’or), Paparanic, an old shipmate of Captain Haddock (Georges Wilson) dies, bequeathing him his old cargo ship, the Golden Fleece, docked in Istanbul. The Captain’s friend, athletic reporter Tintin (Jean-Pierre Talbot) and his dog, Snowy, travel there where businessman Anton Karabine (Demetrios Myrat) is suspiciously anxious to buy the dilapidated, seemingly worthless vessel. In Istanbul, several attempts are made on Haddock’s life, while Tintin gradually draws connections to a revolution Paparanic became involved with years ago, and the disappearance of a chest of gold. The threesome travel to Athens in search of others involved with the revolution, their movements constantly monitored when not outright threatened by obvious bad guys, including crewman Angorapoulos (Marcel Bozzuffi, later the assassin Gene Hackman chases in The French Connection). With the help of Professor Cuthbert Calculus (Georges Loriot) and his latest invention, a super-fuel he calls “Super Cuthbertoleum,” the ship has no trouble reaching the remote island where, just offshore, the treasure of gold lies on the ocean floor.
Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece finds the perfect balance between the cartoons and live-action feature filmmaking. Hergé’s characters—Tintin, Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus, and Thomson and Thompson (incompetent detectives that resemble twins and move in unison)—are heavily stylized yet also integrate acceptably into real-world settings. Partly this is because director Jean-Jacques Vierne and cinematographer Raymond Pierre Lemoigne delicately, almost subliminally emulate the look of Hergé’s albums. There’s an emphasis on bright, primary colors in the manner later adopted by Jacques Demy for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort. The framing of individual shots likewise emulates Hergé’s beautifully-drawn panels.
Not an actor but rather a beachside sports instructor, Jean-Pierre Talbot makes a swell Tintin. His resemblance to Hergé’s original is striking, and his cheerful, athletic performance is right on target; apparently Hergé himself heartily approved. Georges Wilson (the father of actor Lambert Wilson) is likewise dead-on as Captain Haddock, a kind of friendly but equally blustery cousin of Bluto from the Popeye strip and Fleischer cartoons. For the film, Wilson wears the blackest of close-cut black beards; in long shots it looks almost like greasepaint, in the manner of Groucho Marx’s mustache. Snowy (Milou in the original French), the white Wire Fox Terrier companion, also gives a lively performance that’s in keeping with the spunky original character.
Like the Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge adventures, the Tintin stories mixed exotic, far-flung locations with, often but not always, elements of fantasy and/or science fiction. In Golden Fleece, the film makes excellent use of location shooting in Istanbul and Athens, on film making them appear exotic yet very inviting. Besides actor Bozzuffi, also instantly recognizable is longtime French player Charles Vanel as another of Paparanic’s former shipmates. Vanel’s 80-year (!) career included major roles in many classics, including Raymond Bernard’s Les Misérables, Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear and Les Diaboliques, Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, and Francesco Rosi’s Illustrious Corpses.
Alas, Tintin and the Blue Oranges isn’t nearly as good, even though, superficially, it resembles its predecessor. Soon after receiving a strange blue orange, a possible solution to end world hunger, Professor Calculus (this time played by Spaniard Félix Fernández) is kidnapped and the precious orange is stolen. Tintin (again played by Talbot), the Captain (Jean Bouise this time), and Snowy all fly to Valencia in hopes of finding him.
Professor Calculus, it turns out, has been kidnapped to assist another scientific genius, Professor Zalamea (Ángel Álvarez, later a staple of spaghetti Westerns), perfect the oranges, which mature in just five days but remain inedible. Tintin becomes friendly with a gang of mostly expatriate French schoolboys, the Tintin equivalent of Sherlock Holmes’s Baker Street Irregulars.
Except for Jean-Pierre Talbot and Max Ellroy as Nestor, the long-suffering butler at the estate where Tintin and the Captain live, the actors are all different and Golden Fleece’s director and cinematographer have been replaced, this time by Philippe Condroyer and Jean Badal, respectively. Unlike the first picture, visually Tintin and the Blue Oranges is quite ordinary and shot like a regular movie, stylistically indistinguishable from, say, an early OSS 117 entry. Unlike the first film, Oranges was a French-Spanish co-production, yet the Spanish locales are neither as interesting as the first picture, nor shot as flatteringly or in keeping with the look of the original albums.
As many as seven writers worked on the script, including Astérix creator René Goscinny, perhaps a case of too many cooks. The bigger problem, though, is that this film lacks the comradery among Tintin, the Captain, Professor Calculus, and Snowy so essential to the stories as well as in abundance in Golden Fleece. Talbot is just as appealing as Tintin here as he was in the first film, and he exhibits even more athleticism, but there’s a distinct absence of the warm friendships apparent in the first entry.
Part of the fault is Jean Bouise as the Captain, who physically seems all wrong for the part. He’s too thin and bony-faced, more like youthful Jean-Pierre Cassel in a false beard than Hergé’s illustrations. (The captain’s beard is more realistic this time which, oddly, makes him less believable as a character.) A further problem is that it appears that, possibly owing to the mix of French and Spanish talent, much of the film was shot silent and dubbed in post-production. This damages, slightly, the effectiveness of the performances.
Kino’s double-feature Blu-ray presents both films (each running just over 100 minutes) on a single disc. Both shot in color for 1.66:1 widescreen, the 2K video transfers are very impressive. Both “pop” with their color photography and are impressively sharp while showing almost no age or wear. The DTS-HD Master Audio (2.0 mono, French only) is fine, and the English subtitles are excellent, carefully using the English-language translations from the books where appropriate. Region “A” encoded. No extra features, however, a disappointment.
Fans of Hergé’s characters and those with a fondness for ‘60s French cinema won’t want to miss Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece, which is a real delight. Tintin and the Blue Oranges isn’t terrible, just a big disappointment after the earlier film, which gets just about everything right.
- Stuart Galbraith IV