Jim Thompson's Hell of a Woman is a classic favorite of mine; it's a dark, hard boiled masterpiece that deserves a great adaptation like other Thompson books have received (The Grifters; Coup de Torchon, the Pop. 1280 adaption; and After Dark My Sweet), and a great adaptation it got in Alain Corneau's Serie Noir.
I had no idea this film (here's the awesome French trailer) even existed until Film Forum's recent French Crime Wave series. Unfortunately, their double feature ticket policy (which they stand by as a matter of tradition) makes it really hard for people with jobs to attend, so I missed the single showing.
Fortunately, Brix Pick Five Minutes to Live, the ultimate resource for hard to find DVDs, sells an admittedly shoddy transfer in their Rare Film Noir section. Let's hope, for your sake, that it doesn't stay rare for long. I'm hoping that with the attention from the Film Forum presentation this dark and funny film will end up getting the full Criterion treatment (in fact, I just sent them an email with the suggestion).
It's an odd film that really captures the desperate and pessimistic but humourous tone of Thompson's novel. The settings are bleak and feel realistically lived in, the characters are neurotic at best and there's no music on the soundtrack aside from for the pop songs the protagonist, Frank Poupart (“Puppy” to his friends) dances and daydreams to.
Puppy is a door to door salesman and while he's not entirely without his charm (he really reminds me of Howard Moon–right down to the flop of greasy hair, thin moustache, and turtleneck) he's still a sad sack. He's a man with the worst intentions, but he's too weak to carry out the bad deeds he's hatched. Instead, he tells unconvincing lies to himself and everyone around him as he slips deeper and deeper into a mess of violence and theft.
Encouraged by an almost comatose apathetic teenage girl (who's been sold into prostitution by her aunt) to commit murder for money, Puppy almost stumbles blindly into the plot. His lazy and messy wife Janice has left him (but not before shredding all his clothes to pieces), his sticky fingers at work have landed him in and out of jail, and he just wants a break, man!
Patrick Deweare's riveting performance, which seems unaffectedly improvised, is stellar. He plays this incompetent loser with complexity and compassion; as a funny, dangerous fantasist, a pitiable pathological liar and sociopath who is mesmerizing to watch. The role was reportedly such a drain on the handsome and troubled Deweare that people claim it contributed to his mental decline. He committed suicide at 35, cutting short a promising and extraordinary career.
If you like your noir bleak and your comedy dead black, it's definitely worth your time to track down this film or, if you're optimistic enough to hope for an eventual proper DVD release, you can sate your appetite by reading the equally phenomenal book.