The Road to Corinth (La Route De Corinthe)
Review of a 1967 film by French New Wave film-maker Claude Chabrol starring Francophone American actress Jean Seberg. A homage to the work of Chabrol’s beloved Hitchcock, THE ROAD TO CORINTH follows Seberg’s “spy” as she attempts to exonerate herself from the murder of her husband, which leads her to uncover a plot involving international missile defence systems in the Cold War era.
Dir: Claude Chabrol, 1967, 97 mins, Italy/France/Greece (French with subtitles)
Cast: Jean Seberg, Maurice Ronet, Michel Bouquet
It often seems unavoidable to talk about Chabrol without mentioning his mentor-from-afar, Alfred Hitchcock. But with this film Chabrol purposefully fuelled that natural tendency, for The Road to Corinth was made in homage to his beloved Master of Suspense.
The breezy tale is set in Greece where an area of land impenetrable to satellite monitoring has been located by the Americans, causing them to fear that their missile defence system has been compromised. Believed to be linked to this is a mysterious black box that’s been found on someone at a customs checkpoint. When this individual commits suicide during police questioning, American NATO investigators Dex (Ronet) and Ford are scrambled into action to locate the source of the black box. Ford is then murdered during the investigation, but suspicions fall on his wife, Shanny (Seberg), due to her volatile temperament.
Perhaps it’s just a sign of poor writing and a soufflé-light plot, but Seberg’s character is held for her husband’s murder on the flimsy evidence that she has a short temper, manifesting itself merely as a readiness to slap a guy across the face. And it’s no less than her late husband’s boss, Sharps (Bouquet), who makes the charge, when only the day before he was on the receiving end of one of her stingers after having sleazed on to her without any regard for professionalism let alone chivalrous respect for her feelings. Yes, Sharps’ indictment of Shanny could be a sign of a woefully underdeveloped plot, but it could also indicate the general misogyny that seems to permeate Chabrol’s films (tellingly, a similar charge has been levelled at Hitchcock’s work). But then again, without this artless turning point in the plot, there’d be no plot. And while it may have been novel at the time to have a female “spy” – for, to all intents and purposes, Shanny is basically that – at the centre of a film, Seberg was far better served as an actress by the likes of Godard’s A bout de souffle (1960).
The best way to sum up The Road to Corinth is to call it a “caper”. However, its rudimentary plotting, which has incidents occurring indiscriminately by sacrificing all consideration for narrative causality simply in order to drive the storyline forwards, and lackadaisical direction sap any potential intrigue from the story. The quality of such work understandably makes the actors’ jobs very difficult, and consequently they often stand around looking under-directed. Compelling interaction between characters is at a minimum here.
Such is the lack of artistic integrity – and even of artistic intent – in The Road to Corinth that Chabrol’s pastiche of so-called Hitchcockian storylines comes across as irreverence rather than the compliment he intended. And it’s especially dismaying that the film-maker who’s credited with having kick-started the French New Wave is capable of such an absence of cinematic prowess – shocking, even, when you consider that the movement injected world cinema with such vitality and originality. Sadly, these are qualities very much missing from this New Wave-era film.