A drifter with a fearfully short fuse falls in and out of prison; between assaults and armed robberies, he marries a call girl and the hold-ups continue until they're arrested. Then, they take a judge hostage to bargain for their release.
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Building apprehension in an audience requires a particular skill; quite often, we need to be nervous about the combination of personalities and their sudden responses to one another, their capacity for violence of craziness, in order to give a hoot about who gets chased or shot. Edouard Molinaro's "The Hostages," playing today and tomrrow at the First Avenue Screening Room, is an unusually intelligent action picture, partly because it stresses how dangerous a self-destructive persons can be.
The movie is based on a recent case in France. A drifter with a fearfully short fuse falls in and out of prison; between assaults and armed robberies, he marries a call girl and the hold-ups continue until they're arrested. Then, they take a judge hostage to bargain for their release. Their ruthless teamwork has none of the sentimentally that oozed through "Bonnie and Clyde." Here, the tension between the hard-headed practicality and the extreme carelessness of the outlaws yields an intriguing characterization.
Daniel Cauchy and Bulle Ogier are first-rate as the pair on the prowl. His forlorn ??? face when he pulls a weapon or gets nabbed, established the deadly unpredictability of his character. Meanwhile, she's deceptively cherubic; that sweet little face masks a completely brutal nature. This beguiling waif is even more lethal than her husband, even though he's crazed and she is not.
The plot thins in invention toward the end, so the suspense is muted. But there are many fine details, including a scene where some hoods devastate a bar with gaudy spray paint, to punish the proprietor. And I liked the man who's reluctant to surrender his beloved new car to the famous fugitives; as he protests that it's not broken in, that the monthly payments aren't finished, it's clear that his wheels are more important to him than his life. It's that kind of deft absurdity that gives "The Hostages" its special dimensions.
© Nora Sayre, "The New York Times", Dec. 6, 1974