The Murderer Lives at Number 21

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The Murderer Lives at Number 21
Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
Written by
Music by Maurice Yvain
Cinematography Armand Thirard
Edited by Christian Gaudin
Release date
  • 8 July 1942 (1942-07-08) (France)
Running time
83 minutes
Country France

The Murderer Lives at Number 21 (French: L'Assassin habite au 21) is a 1942 French comedy thriller film by director Henri-Georges Clouzot. Adapted by Belgian writer Stanislas-André Steeman and Clouzot from Steeman's 1939 book of the same title, it was Clouzot's debut feature film. The film is about the hunt by detective Wens (Pierre Fresnay) for the murderer Monsieur Durand, who leaves calling cards and manages to be everywhere at once. With the aspiring actress Mila Malou (Suzy Delair), Wens follows clues to a seedy boarding house where he hopes to find the murderer.

The Murderer Lives at Number 21 was the fourth film written by Clouzot for the Nazi run film company Continental Films who made films to take the place of banned American films. Clouzot made several changes from the script including the characters Mila and Wens from his previous screenplay for Le dernier des six (1941). The film was released in France to critical acclaim.


Inspector Wenceslas (referred to as "Wens" for short) Vorobeychik[1] is assigned the case of a serial killer who leaves a calling card with the name 'Monsieur Durand' on his victims. Wens' mistress is the ditsy struggling actress Mila Malou who is determined to get noticed, and attempts to help Wens find the criminal. Wens discovers that Durand is a tenant at a boarding house at No. 21 Avenue Junot. Wens takes a room at the house in disguise as a Protestant minister. Suspects are arrested, but while each is in jail another Durand murder occurs. Both Mila and Wens discover who is responsible for the murders. Wens is captured, and as he is about to be killed when Mila and the police arrive and rescue him.



The Murderer Lives at Number 21 was the first feature film directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot and was the fourth screenplay he wrote for the Nazi-owned company Continental Films.[2][3] The budget for the film was considered to be quite generous and included materials that were extravagant by pre-war standards.[4] As American films were banned during the German occupation of France during World War II, Continental Films aimed at quality and commercial success in their pictures and produced films that were to take the place of the American films.[5][6] The Murderer Lives at Number 21 is a thriller with light comedic elements, which was the style of most mystery films during the occupation.[7]

Henri-Georges Clouzot was assisted by the story's original author Stanislas-André Steeman in writing the film.[6][8] The film marked the second collaboration between the two, who both collaborated on Le Dernier des six (1941) which was a previous screenplay by Clouzot and Steeman.[9] Steeman was not happy with how Clouzot had handled either of the films.[10] Clouzot made changes from the original story including changing the setting of the story from London to Paris.[11] Clouzot also wrote in Wens and Mila Malou from Le Dernier des six to the script.[11] Both Pierre Fresnay and Suzy Delair found Clouzot to be a demanding and even violent director. Delair recalled how Clouzot got his performance out of the actors, by stating that "He slapped me. So what? He slapped others as well...He was tough but I'm not about to complain".[4][12] Fresnay recalled that Clouzot "worked relentlessly, which made for a juicy spectacle...That's to say nothing for his taste of violence, which he never tried with me".[4]


The Murderer Lives at Number 21 was released in France on July 8, 1942 (1942-07-08).[12] It was released in the United States in 1947.[13]

On its initial release in France, The Murderer Lives at Number 21 was popular with critics and audiences.[12] A reviewer from Le Miroir de l'Ecran noted the delighted reaction of the audience at the film's premier, noting how "amusing and witty scenes alternate judiciously with more severe and dramatic ones" and that the film created a "clever cocktail of humor and drama".[12] A reviewer from Ciné-mondial praised the directing of Clouzot, stating that he "has put the finishing touches on a production that is dense, concise, mobile, varied, all in the service of a rich imagination".[12] In the United States, a reviewer for The New York Times wrote that "The Murderer Lives at Number 21, despite a wandering script that fails to tie up many loose ends, is good fun for whodunnit fans".[14]

In 2013 the film received a DVD re-release from Eureka Entertainment as part of their Masters of Cinema series. Providing a 21st-century analysis, Bring The Noise UK reviewer Michael Dodd noted the "numerous brave little digs at the occupying Germans" present in the story. He particularly singled out a scene in which a criminal has his hands raised, only to have one arm lowered by Inspector Wens so that he may light a match on the man's neck, thus rendering the villain into performing a Nazi salute. "It is hard to believe that the strict German authorities missed the subtext of such a shot", he concluded "and the fact that he even dared to place it in the film at all is a testament to the character of Clouzot".[15]


  1. ^ In Russian this name means "Sparrow".
  2. ^ Eder, Bruce. "Henri-Georges Clouzot : Overview". Allmovie. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 14 August 2009. 
  3. ^ Mayne, French Film Guide, 1.
  4. ^ a b c Mayne, French Film Guide, 29.
  5. ^ Lloyd, Henri-Georges Clouzot, 30.
  6. ^ a b Lloyd, Henri-Georges Clouzot, 31.
  7. ^ Williams, Republic of Images, 260.
  8. ^ Lloyd, Henri-Georges Clouzot, 32.
  9. ^ "Le Denrier des Six: Production Credits". Allmovie. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 14 August 2009. 
  10. ^ Mayne, French Film Guide, 25.
  11. ^ a b Lloyd, Henri-Georges Clouzot, 35.
  12. ^ a b c d e Mayne, French Film Guide, 28.
  13. ^ Erickson, Hal. "L'Assassin habite au 21 : Overview". Allmovie. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 13 August 2009. 
  14. ^ New York Times, Film Reviews, 2199.
  15. ^

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