Arsène Lupin Collection Blu-ray Review: Two Hits and a Miss

The famous fictional thief arrives on Blu-ray in this new collection of three of his French theatrical adventures. The Lupin character has been the subject of movies around the world nearly since his literary debut in 1905, with wildly varying creative teams putting their own spin on his mythology. These three films produced between 1957 and 1962 represent the most consistent French theatrical output utilizing the character, but even here the results vary due to different creative choices and teams.

The Adventures of Arsène Lupin gets the collection off to a strong start with a light, amusing plot that feels the most true to the character. Robert Lamoureux stars as Lupin, fully inhabiting the character with his lithe frame and constantly shifting disguises. Lupin is suave and charismatic, always seeming like he belongs even when he’s entirely out of place, such as when he crashes a fancy party at a mansion to steal valuable paintings. He’s pursued by a clueless cop, always staying at least one step ahead of him, while also finding the time to charm the ladies. Jacques Becker directs with a deft, spritely touch perfectly matched for the gentleman thief.

Signed, Arsène Lupin again stars Lamoureux, but finds Lupin uncharacteristically unsettled as he’s faced with outsmarting an imposter committing art thefts in his name. It’s interesting to see Lupin in defensive posture, pursuing a foe instead of instigating thefts. Eventually, he recovers his balance and figures out his opponent’s end game, racing to outsmart him and make off with the spoils. Director Yves Robert takes the reins for this outing, mostly maintaining the feel of the first film in spite of its somewhat more downbeat narrative.

Arsène Lupin vs. Arsène Lupin opens with the shocking revelation that Lupin has died, but has identified two previously unknown bastard sons as his heirs, initially pitting them against each other in the hunt for royal gems. As they follow clues and cross paths, the story keeps us guessing whether they will end up as friends or enemies. Of course, this being Lupin, we’re also kept wondering whether his reported death will end up being an elaborate hoax.

The two young men are affable enough, but they’re no match for the sorely missed Lamoureux. Also, as the latest film in the collection, its 1962 production shows telltale signs of the emerging French New Wave, diverging from the totally classic feel of the first two films. There’s some slapstick comedy, much tighter use of close-ups on character faces, crucial conversations happening offscreen while other nonsense is pictured, and constant transitions using iris wipes. In short, director Édouard Molinaro is making a nuisance of himself, putting his stamp on the film rather than following the established template. As a result of his actions and the odd story, the film feels about as out of place in this collection as Roberto Benigni’s Son of the Pink Panther would be in a Peter Sellers Pink Panther collection. It’s still entertaining, it just doesn’t feel like Lupin.

Although the films were all produced in France in a five-year span, even their formatting is inconsistent. The first film is the only one in color and utilizes 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The second is formatted at 1.66:1, while the last is 2.35:1. It’s odd to see a series start in color then move to black and white, while simultaneously being formatted in progressively more cinematic proportions. Still, the technical results are impressive for all three films. 

The first film features era-appropriate subdued colors with no apparent attempts to oversaturate, while the other two are presented in beautifully high-contrast black and white with only a bit of muddiness in an outdoor scene in the second film. No defects or judder are apparent in any of the films. Sound is presented in crisp and clearly defined DTS 2.0 mono with no noticeable snap, crackle or pop. Aside from a trailer, no bonus features are provided.

Lupin continues to be a force around the globe over a century after his creation, popping up in new works such as Lupin III animated movies and TV series from Japan and the ongoing hit French live-action Lupin series on Netflix. If you’ve come to the character via either of those recent routes, or even if you’ve somehow never encountered the character before, Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray collection is a fantastic look at his classic mid-20th century interpretations. While the third film in the collection is a bit of an outlier due to its Lupin-less plot and New Wave trappings, the first two films starring the charming Lamoureux are highly recommended and are likely to steal your heart.

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Steve Geise

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