Review: Restored Print of Wickedly Fun The Murderer Lives at Number 21 Comes to Chicago

In 1942, after a few years of working together with directing partner Karl Hartl, Henri-Georges Clouzot (Wages of Fear, Diabolique) broke out with his first solo effort with the old-school murder mystery The Murderer Lives at Number 21. The film has long been out of circulation in the United States, recently digitally restored and brought over from France as a 2K DCP (digital cinema package) courtesy of Institut Français and Cultural Services of the French Embassy in Chicago.

Murderer Lives at Number 21 Image courtesy of Gene Siskel Film Center

The noirish plot revolves around a series of murders throughout Paris that confound police, partly because they can’t catch the criminal and also because the killer seems intent on letting the police know that the same person is responsible for each by leaving a calling card at every crime scene. Eventually, the case falls to Inspector Wens (Pierre Fresnay), who disguises himself as a pastor and moves into a boarding house (with his obnoxious lady friend, played by Suzy Delair, not far behind him) where he suspects the killer is living. Also living in the establishment are the shadiest collection of potential suspects known to mankind, which comes in handy when one of them goes dead in the night, making everyone look at each other sideways.

With a mix of scrappy detective work and a healthy dose of gallows humor thrown in, The Murderer Lives at Number 21 feels like a primer for much darker material Clouzot had in store later in his career. It still has a nice sense of tension, a stark visual style, and a healthy suspicion that everyone is guilty of something, even if it isn’t serial murder. The payoff might be too bizarre and unbelievable for some, but it certainly kept me guessing. And I truly adored the reprobate group of suspects, each one a bigger liar than the next, sometimes for not good reason. More footnote than film history, the movie is still wicked fun.

The film opens exclusively at the Gene Siskel Film Center, where it will screen on Friday, July 13 at 2:15pm; Sunday, July 15 at 3:15pm; Monday, July 16 at 6:15pm; and Wednesday, July 18 at 8pm. Did you enjoy this review? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by becoming a patron. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!
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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.