Release Date(s)1965 (September 14, 2021)
Studio(s)StudioCanal (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: C+
- Extras Grade: B
Blue Panther is a light-hearted comic spy thriller from director Claude Chabrol’s oft-maligned “commercial” period during the Sixties. The bland English-language title is perfectly accurate, as there’s indeed a piece of jewelry shaped like a blue panther that’s the object of desire for nearly everyone involved. However, it’s just a MacGuffin to set the plot in motion, and the original French title captures the spirit of the film much better: Marie-Chantal contre docteur Kha (Marie-Chantal vs. Dr. Kha). That conveys the enjoyably pulpy tone of the story far more effectively. It’s also a deliberate allusion to another popular superspy, as the French title for Dr. No had been James Bond 007 contre Dr. No.
The screenplay was by Chabrol, Christian Yve, and Daniel Boulanger, based on the socialite character created by dancer Jacques Chazot. In this tale, Marie-Chantal (Marie Laforet) is traveling with her cousin Hubert (Pierre-Francois Moro) when a secret agent (Roger Hanin) entrusts her with a piece of jewelry in the form of a blue panther with ruby eyes. That makes her the target of various other agents and nefarious forces, with the prime mover being the sinister Dr. Kha (Akim Tamiroff, who has a field day in the role). Blue Panther also stars Francisco Rabal, Serge Reggiani, Charles Denner, and Chabrol muse Stephane Audran.
There aren’t any major surprises in Blue Panther, but the twists and turns in the story are only important in terms of how they affect the heroine. Marie Laforet is truly wonderful as Marie-Chantal, showing a real arc to the character throughout the film. She’s initially somewhat indifferent to everything, but she learns quickly, and by the end of the story she handles all obstacles with aplomb. That initial nonchalance swiftly turns into supreme self-confidence—in fact, when Dr. Kha condescendingly tells her that she’s done pretty well for a beginner, she’s actually been running circles around him the whole time. Laforet played the part with a wry wit similar to what Diana Rigg would bring to Emma Peel in The Avengers a few months later, but she had a flair all her own.
Blue Panther ends somewhat abruptly and inconclusively; a voiceover from Dr. Kha concedes that Marie-Chantal may have won the first round, but he’ll be back for round two. Sadly, that sequel never materialized, but Blue Panther is still an entertaining romp on its own terms. Those who dismiss it as “lesser” Chabrol just haven’t opened themselves up to its many charms.
Cinematographer Jean Rabier shot Blue Panther on 35 mm film using spherical lenses, framed at the 1.66:1 aspect ratio for its theatrical release. Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray uses a 4K restoration from the original negative supplied by StudioCanal. It’s quite clean, with little in the way of damage, but the fine detail and grain structure are still perfectly intact. The contrast is generally solid, but the black levels are sometimes a little elevated, which can wash out some of the shadow detail. Color balance is good, with natural-looking flesh tones, and good representation for the kaleidoscopic costuming.
Audio is offered in French 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with removable English subtitles. It’s a somewhat thin and harsh-sounding track, with occasional distortion and excessive sibilance in the dialogue. There’s also extra background hiss in the music by Gregorio García Segura and Pierre Jansen. All of that may be inherent in the original elements, but it’s still a less than euphonious listening experience.
The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary by Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson
- The Champagne Murders Trailer (SD – 2:29)
- OSS 117: Panic in Bangkok Trailer (HD – 3:45)
- OSS 117: Mission for a Killer Trailer (HD – 3:51)
- Fantomas Unleashed Trailer (HD – 3:41)
- Fantomas Vs. Scotland Yard Trailer (HD – 2:03)
- Arabesque Trailer (HD – 3:30)
- Masquerade Trailer (HD – 3:00)
The classic trio of Berger, Mitchell, and Thompson are the ideal group to handle an underrated film like this. They do admit that it’s an uncommon kind of film for Chabrol, and also mention how the storyline is deliberately innocuous and even a little inane. On the other hand, they marvel at just how good that Marie Laforet is in the lead role, and note that her character seems to have taken some inspiration from Audrey Hepburn in Charade—but Marie-Chantal is much more resourceful and self-reliant. She starts out appearing a little ditzy, but she isn’t necessarily what she seems to be, and matures throughout the film. They also point out how none of the characters are quite what they appear to be, and as the film progresses, most of them almost seem to realize that they’re just characters in a story. It’s a great commentary track which spends less time on dry technical details, and more time on analyzing the content and the style of the film.
Kino Lorber has been doing a nice job of putting out neglected Claude Chabrol films like Blue Panther and Bluebeard, and also of paring them with sympathetic commenters like this trio and Kat Ellinger. Chabrol fans should pick up these Blu-rays without hesitation.
- Stephen Bjork
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