Magnet of Doom (1963) Poster

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Surprisingly good
StevieGB24 July 2003
I saw this at London's National Film Theatre a couple of nights ago. The print, the best they could lay their hands on, was scratched and the colour had faded to the extent that much of it was a pinky sepia. Also, I could find very few reviews to read beforehand (zero on the IMDB). So I wasn't expecting much.

And I was therefore very pleasantly surprised. The tale of an old crooked banker who absconds to the US with a young male golddigger really works. Charles Vanel (who was so brilliant in The Wages of Fear) and Jean-Paul Belmondo are a wonderful team, as a very spiky and spiteful Father/Son relationship grows between them.

As a travelogue of a journey from New York to the Deep South it's fascinating, and reminded me, of all things, of Easy Rider, which I very much suspect it may have influenced.

There's a few problems with it, mainly due to the fact the Jean-Pierre Melville never really got the timing right when it came to editing emotional scenes (especially at the end).

But if you're a fan of the early Melville movies, Le Doulos in particular, then check it out.
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lessor Melville still isn't bad, just... different
Quinoa19841 August 2014
Adapted from a Georges Simenon novel, Magnet of Doom (why it's called that I don't know, though the American DVD I watched had the title An Honorable Young Man) is about a young amateur boxer and ex-military man (Jean-Paul Belmondo, the cool tall smoking male of the Nouvelle Vague) who becomes a 'secretary' to an older white collar criminal (Charles Vanel) who had to leave France fast. Instead of going to Venezuela, like one might think is most logical, they head to America, first to New York and then, following a brief road trip, New Orleans.

This is where most of the story takes place - which is mostly just watching their relationship disintegrate and thoughts about taking-the-money-and-running for Belmondo (yeah, Vanel has a big stack of cash that he had to take out of his security box in New York before the feds got wise) - and it's not bad. If there's a problem it's that by the time one comes to this movie, which I didn't really know about until recently (it only got released on DVD last year I believe, and aside from a NY Film Festival screening fifty years ago it never got a release stateside), one has probably/likely seen all of Melville's other films. And it's not a major work.

Or, if it is, Melville doesn't really have a lot of energy to make it more than just an interesting B movie, no more no less. It is actually a "crime movie" if you think about it, just different because it's not about a heist or guys in trench-coats, but about an older man trying to out-run the law and... himself, I guess.

Belmondo and Vanel make up most of the heart of the picture and keep it fascinating. You want to know what each one will do next - Ferchaux needs Michel more than he needs him - amid the sweltering heat and the old man's boy-cry-wolf physical ailments. And Melville cast his two leads well. So well that it helps, a little, to distract from portions that don't work dramatically or feel dated. There's a mid-section in the film while they're on their cross-country trek that Michel stops (rather suddenly) for a female hitchhiker, and they quickly become lovers (?) in one of those Movie-Fantasy-Scenes where right after they pick her up they stop and Michel and the young woman have a swim and kiss and then... at the next stop she tries to run away with another truck driver (?)

It's something like that where Melville, whether it's through himself or Simenon's text, shows a bit of sexism, or just not knowing what to do with a female character that could have become a fully developed character or a love interest (and there IS a love interest, sorta, later in the movie in New Orleans, though I wonder if this is also an excuse to just show a woman practically naked while Michel sits drunk). It's not a criticism I'd like to make against the director but I do; he has his two main male characters fully developed, and the actors inhabit them well enough, that it disguises that everyone else in the movie has not much dimension at all. Well, maybe the bartender has a little as a mean-looking-dude of a sort.

But Melville's love of America comes through and that helps a bit. And it's interesting to see him work in color for the first time, though ironically I think I prefer when he has his more subtle, washed out and blue-ish colors in later movies like Army of Shadows and The Red Circle. Here things are bright enough (hard to tell fully from the non-Amamorphic DVD transfer), and he gets the local color about right even as it's all shot, oddly enough, in his studio in Paris (what, you thought he'd trek out to America to shoot this? Heavens no, though I'm sure a second unit for the rest of the footage).

An Honorable Young Man/Magnet of Doom has an intriguing performance from Belmondo, in terms of 'what will he do next', and some good cinematography. But there should've been a little more 'there' there, past the male camaraderie and themes of loyalty (which, yes, it's fine and well drawn enough).
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Southern Discomfort - the great French director takes on the road movie with mixed results
chaos-rampant2 April 2009
I must confess I was terribly excited at the prospect of Jean-Pierre Melville tackling the road movie. If a director was ever suitable for taking on his back the existential baggage usually associated with that particular sub-genre, that's old Jean-Pierre. But in the same time, nine out of ten times there's a reason why certain films of a director's ouevre receive all the plaudits while others tend to languish in obscurity. Simply put, Magnet of Doom is not among Melville's finest - probably not his worst either. It's just too awkward and clumsy to ever be truly successful from an artistic or technical standpoint and even though fans of the director will take pleasure in witnessing the early nurturing of those same ideas, themes and moods that would later transform into what became his signature style, Magnet of Doom lacks the singularity of purpose and stylistic confidence of something like Le Samourai.

Melville weaves the plots of two characters, an amateur boxer scraping to get by after his boxing career goes down the drain and the stalwart, rich businessman on the run from the law (presumably for someone's murder) who hires the first as his secretary and travel companion, into a road movie that takes us all the way from the petit bourgouisie cafes of France to Manhattan to the Deep South and bayous of New Orleans. If you can forgive the wooden delivery and stilted dialogue American non-actors are saddled with, the choppy editing, the occasionally clumsy and haphazard camera-work, there's quite a few things to appreciate. Melville's guerilla tactics as he samples New Orleans nightlife with a camera shooting from the open car of a moving vehicle, the documentary style of his footage of empty highway stretches, slick diners, smoky bars and neon motel signs, small parts of a puzzle that in clicking together form a different kind of Americana. One seen through the eyes of a European not necessarily fascinated with what he sees. If the boxer's fixation on Frank Sinatra, the son of Italian immigrants much like himself, symbolizes the mythic quality of the New World, a motley assortment of thieving hitchhikers, soldiers spouting racial slurs and opportunist, murderous bar owners reveals the seemy underbelly of the American Dream.

Behind the slow-burn atmosphere however, behind the minimalism of the plot, the sparse dialogue, the intimacy of the monologues, all typically Melvillesque ideas and themes that would later resurface in a more refined, surefooted form, there's not much of a story to speak of. Not only is the plot stretched pretty thin, not only does it suffer from one too many improbabilities (not plot holes necessarily but little distractions that accumulate in the course of time) but it's handled in a somewhat awkward manner. The gradual shift of power in the duo's relationship, as one learns to experience freedom and the other comes to term with solitude, is not enough to carry the dramatic weight of the plot and beyond that there's not much of anything. And if Belmondo's character redeems himself in the finale for being a conniving, self-serving scoundrel for most of the film, he has the show stole from right under his nose by by the great Charles Vanel (Les Diaboliques, Wages of Fear, To Catch a Thief) who gives another terrific performance.
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End of the Line
boblipton26 March 2019
Washed-up boxer Jean-Paul Belmondo answers an ad for a secretary. It's Charles Vanel, a magnate whose brother has just been jailed for corruption. Vanel needs to get out of the country, pick up his money in New York and then fly to extradition-safe Venezuela. Belmondo goes with him. In New York, the bankers put him off, so they go on a road trip, ending up near New Orleans. Vanel grows weaker. Belmondo chafes at the situation. Locals try to get him to help kill the old man.

There's a sequence in which Belmondo goes to New Orleans and has an affair with Michèle Mercier, whose character is a French stripper called "Lou." This makes me think that writer-director Jean-Pierre Melville had the song "Frankie and Johnny" in mind, and that this is a love story with a tragic ending, with Belmondo on a voyage of self-discovery through an alien, idealized America of his own imagination How these pieces fit together is not clear; Melville had these bizarre ideas of how things worked that often bore no relationship to reality. The journey, wth Vanel occasionally providing insight into how Belmondo's character thinks, strikes me as something of a journey into the underworld. Melville's symbolism is so idiosyncratic, and the pacing so slow, that the movie is recondite and unsatisfactory.
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Awesome Movie! Unfairly Maligned!
chuckster-128 March 2019
Even though I have always enjoyed Melville's films, I had never heard of "L'Aine des Ferchaux" until it was on TCM this past week. I'm bowled over. It was amazing!

The American title is "Magnet of Doom." Before I saw the film, I thought, "This is the best movie title ever. There's no way the film can live up to it. And not only does it live up to it, but it exceeds it in every way!

Down and out boxer Jean-Paul Belmondo is hired to drive a disgraced, on-the-run, banker Charles Vanel across the backroads of the US, from NYC to New Orleans, in Kennedy-era 1962, kind of like a proto-"Green Book"... except "The Green Book" sucks and "L'Aine des Ferchaux" is amazing!

I loved seeing the cold/stoic characters of French Film Noir thrown into the over-the-top world that's also occupied by American films like "Cool Hand Luke," "Midnight Cowboy," "Easy Rider," Tennessee Williams, and even "Hurry, Sundown." It's film noir, it's a road trip, and it's also a fantastic widescreen/color travelogue of JFK-era US in 1962. Belmondo even visits Sinatra's home in Hoboken, and he brawls with toughs in a diner, like Rock Hudson does in "Giant." Much of the dialogue is in English, too.

European directors sometimes pick up on little nuances of Americana that American filmmakers miss. Here, I'm thinking of this film, but also of Wim Wenders' "Paris, Texas." This film is full of small details that only a European outsider would notice (Melville is definitely fetishizing Chevrolets, roadside motels, lady hitchhikers, and American rock and roll), plus a few comedic set-pieces that seem to be right out of David Lynch or John Waters.

The score by Georges Delerue is excellent, and it stays in your head, long after the film is over.

This film is sometimes left out of Melville retrospectives, because it's less somber than some of his other films, and I guess Melville purists don't like it. I enjoy the director's other movies, but I also really liked this one a lot. Entertaining and fun, from beginning to end.
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Melville Noir
khsooners18 July 2018
As some of the other reviews have already stated, the print of the movie that is available is very poor. So it is not quite clear whether Melville wanted to have the washed-out look of the picture or whether it is just plain bad quality. Even rare TV screenings do not offer an improved version (ARTE). The relationship between the young ex-paratrooper/boxer/secretary (Belmondo) and the old bank owner/colonial adventurer (Vanel) is quite interesting and also stands for the generational conflict of the 1960s. Obviously, some of the plot is somewhat stretched but the tension between the main characters is excellently played out. Melville wanted Spencer Tracy for the Vanel part, but Tracy's health situation made any form of outdoor filming (not to mention insurance for this) Impossible. Belmondo, who is fooling around in Godard's "Breathless" and posing as a Bogart style tough guy, really plays a film noir character in this one. The way he treats his girlfriend at the beginning of the movie makes his protagonist almost unlikeable. In the damp Louisiana setting at the end of the movie, the whole affair really turns into a veritable noir.
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A French road picture.
MartinHafer19 November 2019
"Magnet of Death" is a very unusual film from writer/director Jean-Pierre Melville. While the plot involves a crook, which is pretty typical of Melville, the plot itself is most unusual as the film is a meandering road picture--one with a scant plot and plenty of quiet moments.

When the story begins, Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is fighting his last boxing match. He just hasn't got what it takes and he needs to find a new job. He soon learns about an unusual job...being the traveling secretary and body guard for a rich man, Mr. Ferchaux. As for Ferchaux, he's a rich and well respected crook...a banker who soon is bound to be arrested for his many misdeeds. His plan is to skip the country and live out his life abroad...and so Michel has to be willing and able to travel with him.

The pair head to the United States because much of Ferchaux's ill-gotten wealth is in banks in America. The plan, then, is to collect his money and head to South America where there is no extradition treaty with France. However, this is all easier said than done....banks in America keep delaying him and a could FBI agents seem to be following the two men. Instead of being a gangster picture, which it seemed to be at first, it becomes a road picture...and a meandering one at that. It was as if Melville didn't have a script at times and the pair just aimlessly travel the roads of America as they head south.

While the film is an interesting character study, it also meanders too much. Overall, an odd sort of picture...and one I mildly enjoyed but nothing more.
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Father and son -- the perpetual war
evening13 November 2019
Warning: Spoilers
If someone treats you callously, how do you react? Do you grow in empathy and treat others with compassion? Or do you pounce on the next chump who comes along and wring him for all you can get?

Here we have the stunning portrait of two men of the latter sort -- corrupt banker Ferchaux (Charles Vanel) and failed boxer Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo). Ferchaux is a killer who flees France in hopes of eluding extradition and holding onto his money. Michel tags along as his secretary, but quickly realizes that he's the one in charge.

In a classic allegory of the endless struggle between the generations, we observe Michel's mounting disgust with the old man, whom he views as a hypochondriacal ball-and-chain. Ferchaux returns the contempt as he sinks ever deeper into weakness, dependence, and, somewhat surprisingly, philosophical introspection.

"I'm old," he tells Michel. "So when I get used to something it's hard for me to lose it...Now we're used to each other. Our relationship, our fights are like those of an old couple who are no longer in love but who can't live without each other."

Belmondo's performance is chilling because we see, over and over, that he's the only one who matters in his mind. He'll rip the Star of David fro his wife's neck, though it's a keepsake from her mother -- "She's dead. She won't know," Michel snarls -- and stay in a hotel but leave without paying. He also abandons his wife without a cent or a word of farewell.

It's a fascinating performance in a darkly twisted tale.
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Melville never made a bad film: here's proof
mackjay21 November 2019
Alternately called in English, "Magnet of Doom" or "An Honorable Young Man"--neither title doing justice to the French "L'Aîné des Ferchaux" (The Eldest of the Ferchaux Brothers), a phrase uttered in the film by Charles Vanel. Well, none of those titles is very good, but the film is pretty decent. Often seen as a detour in Jean-Pierre Melville's output, it does conform to a few of the director's themes. As a matter of fact, it could be seen as prefiguring the LE DEUXIÈME SOUFFLE (1966) in a number of ways. Vanel plays a corrupt financial partner who has to flee France ASAP--he's about to be arrested in connection with deaths of three men and is also in deep financial trouble. He hires a failed welterweight boxer--Jean-Paul Belmondo-- as a "secretary" to accompany him to the United States, where a safe deposit in his name will take care of his money problems. With a big wad of cash, the pair start off from NYC, heading south, ending up in New Orleans. Vanel is in charge all the time for the first half, but after Belmondo stops the car to pick up a female hitch hiker, he takes over, relegating Vanel to the back seat. Vanel's weaknesses become more evident as the situation becomes more and more hopeless: he's aging fast, has no real social support and his cash won't last forever. The film uses US back-roads and highways effectively and the New Orleans sequences have a noirish sense of decadence and doom. As the relationship between the two men devolves quickly into contentiousness, it's pretty seedy and unpleasant, but Melville's energetic direction--never a dull scene--should keep anyone interested. Both Vanel and the ever-watchable Belmondo are in good form and keep it all very convincing. Not one of Melville's masterworks, but a must-see for his fans.
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Awful in every way
Jean-Pierre Melville made this unwatchable drama at the height of his power reteaming with Belmondo just after their masterpiece Le Doulos. One the worst movies ever made by a great director.
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A waste of time
Tin_ear30 March 2019
Usually a director is supposed to get better with age. But where Melville's earlier film, Les Enfants Terribles, was an intense, memorable psychodrama, Magnet of Doom is just a collection of stale genre tropes. And Melville does nothing with them. Generally anytime a director chooses to make a road movie you should be extremely wary. Much like Breathless--another lifeless French crime film--this is one of those movies where you are actively hoping the protagonist will die, partly because he is so arrogant and dull but also so the insufferable movie will end already.
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