Anthology movies are tricky, with so many different cinematic voices collaborating on a single project often leads to an uneven flow between segments. This isn’t just a problem that affects modern anthology films, but something that dates back many years. The 1964 anthology movie The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers is no different, featuring segments that vary in effectiveness despite having world class cinematic talent behind them. Now on Blu-ray from Olive Films, The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers looks fantastic in its black and white glory even if some of the segments are slightly underwhelming.
Originally, The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers consisted of five segments filmed around the world, though this release only features four segments due to the fact that Roman Polanski has asked that his segment be removed. There’s no further information as to why Polanski requested the segment removed. Regardless, the four segments that remain are directed by Claude Chabrol (Paris), Jean-Luc Godard (Marrakech), Ugo Gregoretti (Naples), and Hiromichi Horikawa (Tokyo).
The first segment is Horikawa’s in Tokyo, and probably the best of the film’s four segments. A Geisha (Mie Hama) longingly looks a pearl necklace once a week and has been saving tirelessly to one day obtain the jewelry that she desires. She works in a smoky bar tending to the patrons. One evening, a man enters the bar talking of his new expensive dentures. He carries a bag overflowing with cash. Sensing an opportunity, the Geisha feigns an illness and leaves with her new wealthy benefactor. During their time together, however, he falls ill and collapses, eventually dying. The money in his bag is counterfeit and the only valuable item she can see are his new dentures. In the time between his passing, the police are on the lookout for the missing dentures and a young woman wearing a brand new pearl necklace has gained their attention.
Up next is the segment by Gregoretti in Naples, which suffers from a sharp decline from the previous segment. A young prostitute (Gabriella Giorgelli) is struggling to find her place in Naples and with the help from one of her clients is able to con an elderly man into marrying her for citizenship before using and betraying him. This segment has the feel of an abbreviated take on Fellini’s Nights of Cabria, but doesn’t quite land with the impact that the other tales of deceit and betrayal do.
The lull between segments is short when Chabrol gets his turn with a demented tale of a husband that is taken by a team of swindlers (one of whom is Catherine Deneuve) and believes that he has just purchased the Eiffel Tower. The absurdity of the scenario is amplifying by the over the top performance of Francis Blanche, whom is big and boisterous in his enthusiasm for buying the Eiffel Tower. It all culminates in a wildly comedic scene with the swindled man trying to enter the Eiffel Tower without a ticket because he’s firmly convinced that it is his property. This along with Horikawa’s Tokyo segment represent the highlights of The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers.
Finally, Jean-Luc Godard takes the film to Marrakech, where a television journalist (Jean Seberg) is working on assignment and is able to track down a philosophical counterfeiter. The segment is obviously the work of Godard. You watch it without credits and know that the legendary filmmaker from the French New Wave was behind this installment. Though I’m an admirer of Godard, his segment is probably the weakest of The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers, with a modest pacing and lengthy diatribes. However, Godard does bring a kinetic sense of editing to his segment, something that is apparent from the get-go.
Like most anthology films, The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers is a mixed bag, but two of the four segments are absolutely killer. The Blu-ray transfer by Olive Films looks absolutely gorgeous with a pristine print that captures the vibrant black and white photography of the film. There’s an energy to each of these tales of crime and deceit, though some certainly work better than others. At its best, the segments are sexy and thrilling with darkly comedic overtones. At its worst, the segments are ambitious yet relatively flat. But one thing is for certain, with this gorgeous new transfer The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers certainly lives up to its name.