Spotlight on a Murderer is a Georges Franju film from 1961. It was the third feature for the director of Head Against the Wall and the extremely creepy Eyes Without a Face, although he also had made several short documentaries (including Blood of the Beast, about a slaughterhouse). Spotlight on a Murderer is one of his more obscure films, and was out of circulation until very recently. Based on a book by Boileau and Navajek, who also wrote the novels on which Vertigo and Diabolik were based as well as the script for Eyes Without a Face, it’s more of an Agatha Christie-style whodunit than the psychological thriller you might expect.
The body of an aged Count goes missing, leaving his family to fight amongst themselves for his inheritance. No body means a five-year wait. His nieces and nephews set up a Son et Lumière show in the manor house while looking for the corpse, other people end up dying, and all of these “accidents” appear to really be murders of some kind. It playfully messes around with typical murder mystery clichés, and has an unexpected resolution.
The film was overshadowed at the time by Frandju’s followup Judex, based on the French pulp fiction hero, and has been largely forgotten.
Actor Pierre Brasseur, who also appeared in Eyes Without a Face, has a key part as the Count. However, he’s out of sight for most of the film. One of the heirs is played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, who many viewers will know better as the protagonist in The Conformist. It’s an early role for Brasseur, and one of the film’s stronger performances.
The main problem with Spotlight on a Murderer is that it isn’t quite strange enough—in the scheme of Frandju’s work it’s quite playful rather than having the deep weirdness he is better known for. The premise is good enough, but the story never quite adds up to much compared to his other work. Frandju usually used a documentary feel to create terrifying realism in his work, but doesn’t in this particular film.
The dual-format release includes a featurette shot at the time, which includes interviews with the cast and crew, plus a trailer and booklet by Chris Fujiwara.