Saturday 16 April 2022

Movie Review: Rider On The Rain (1970)

A psychological thriller, Rider On The Rain teases with a tremendous premise. But despite excellent performances and a compelling mood, the follow-through is only middling.

In a small French town, Mélancolie "Mellie" Mau (Marlène Jobert) is married to Tony (Gabriele Tinti), a frequently absent airplane navigator. Mellie and her mother Juliette (Annie Cordy) spot a creepy stranger in town; he proceeds to rape Mellie in her house. But she recovers and kills her assailant with a shotgun blast and paddle blows to the head, then dumps his body into the ocean at a secluded beach. She tells no one about the incident.

Another stranger named Harry Dobbs (Charles Bronson) arrives in town the next day, and immediately accuses Mellie of murder. He is seeking the rapist's small red travel bag. Mellie denies killing anyone and any knowledge of the bag. Harry is persistent and over several days stalks Mellie to pressure her into confessing, but she demonstrates a strong capacity to resist.

It's rare for a film to lose energy when Charles Bronson makes his appearance, but through no fault of the actor, this is what happens here. For the first 30 minutes and with Bronson nowhere to be seen, director René Clément introduces a damp and dreary French resort shrouded in rain with the winsome Mellie as the one bright spot, then delivers a delicious double shock with a brutal rape followed quickly by Mellie's devastating revenge. So far, so electrically Hitchcockian, and as opening acts go, Rider On The Rain sets a high bar.

But then Bronson's Harry Dobbs arrives to haunt Mellie, and he seems to know all the answers except the important ones. The Sébastien Japrisot script bogs down, offering riddles but dragging out the non-solutions to the point of irrelevance. Dobbs' identity, his interest in the rapist, what is so important about the red travel bag, and how any of this relates to the suspicious amounts of cash Tony brings back from his travels are all good questions waiting too long for adequate explanations.

Instead Clément stages scene after repetitive scene of Dobbs pressuring Mellie to talk, his tactics encompassing plying her with alcohol and flirting with outright abuse, while she doggedly sticks to her story of saying nothing. Brief flashbacks to a childhood trauma explain Mellie's determination, but do nothing to advance the plot. The resolutions come tumbling out in the final 20 minutes, and these are a barely coherent mishmash of new characters and events thrown haphazardly at the screen, including a second murder twist more coincidental than clever.

Marlène Jobert shines through the movie's good parts and helps pull it through the rough patches, her Mellie a study of outsized resilience in a petite package. Bronson is physically dominant and emotionally confidant, but has little to do except impose himself and smile arrogantly. Rider On The Rain starts with a thunderstorm, but ends with a frustrating drizzle.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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