Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


Ingrid Thulin and Maximilian Schell
RETURN FROM THE ASHES (1965). Director: J. Lee Thompson.

"I was revolted, curious, shocked -- even thrilled."

"A man should always marry a woman with beautiful eyes. That way there's always something to love, no matter what happens."

"I came to you for advice, not the truth."

Michelle (Ingrid Thulin), a wealthy widow who also happens to be a doctor, falls in love with a poor chess player named Stanislaus Pilgrin (Maximilian Schell) in pre-WW 2 Paris. After the Nazis occupy the city, Stan marries the Jewish Michelle more as an act of defiance than anything else, but immediately after the wedding she's taken off to a concentration camp. After four years of Hell and a fifth in a sanitarium, Michelle makes her way back to Paris. At first Stan not only doesn't recognize his own wife, but thinks she must be dead and this woman her mere lookalike. He asks her to "pretend" to be Michelle -- herself -- so that he and her step-daughter, Fabienne (Samantha Eggar), can claim her 30 million franc fortune. And things get more twisted after that ... In a pre-credit sequence set on a train taking Michelle to Paris, a mischievous little boy falls through the door, and an old man remarks to his wife that Michelle, who has absolutely no reaction to the child's death, must have an "incredible lack of feeling." Then he sees the numbers tattooed on her arm and realizes why she is emotionally dead inside ... The trouble with Return from the Ashes is that nothing else as powerful as this opening sequence ever occurs in the movie, which turns more or less into a comparatively ordinary suspense film. On the other hand, Return sets up some intriguing situations, isn't entirely predictable, and boasts excellent performances from the entire cast, including Herbert Lom as a doctor friend of Michelle's. Attractive Thulin [The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse] gives an assured and authoritative lead performance; Schell [Judgment at Nuremberg] makes a charismatic "bad boy;" and Eggar expertly limns the petulant, sexual woman-child. The film also has interesting characters and some excellent dialogue. Still one might have hoped that such a momentous occurrence as the Holocaust might have developed into something a little more explosive than a fairly standard murder mystery. Attempts to equate atheism with "evil" are a little tiresome. J. Lee Thompson also directed Happy Birthday to Me.

Verdict: Despite disappointing aspects, this is an absorbing suspense film with some fascinating elements and several fine performances. ***.


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill, thanks for turning me on to this one, it looks fascinating. I am a big, big fan of Maximilian Schell...he is so marvelous in Judgement at Nuremberg, and such a handsome leading man. Later on, a wonderful character actor--remember him in that wonderful scene in Julia with Jane Fonda?

Looking forward to catching this one!

William said...

I saw Julia years ago but I'll check it out again. Schell was superb in "Judgment" and was certainly quite good-looking as well.

I got an email from a reader who told me this film was recently remade as "Phoenix," so I've ordered it. "Ashes" is available on you tube in 12 parts!