In the 1960s European cinema went mad for a style of filmmaking called portmanteau, which is a movie that consists of several short stories united by a common theme. One such film was the 1964 release "Les plus belles escroqueries du monde", released in English language nations as "The World's Most Beautiful Swindlers". The charm of such movies was that they generally gathered diverse, well-known filmmakers who contributed individual segments in their own unique style. The Olive Films Blu-ray edition of "Swindlers" showcases the work of four directors in generally whimsical tales that involve men and women who circumvent the law for their own personal gain. First up is a tale set in Tokyo, directed by Hiromichi Horikawa. Future James Bond girl Mie Hama plays a young woman who is frustrated by her "career" of working as a hostess in a bar where her duties are to keep male customers engaged in conversation. When she meets a middle-aged, wealthy eccentric (Ken Mitsuda), who walks around with a fortune in cash in a black bag, she sees an opportunity to exploit him using her sexual charms. She convinces him to allow her into his apartment where the lonely man is immediately entranced by her. However, he is embarrassed when she discovers he wears false teeth- and he makes the mistake of informing her they are extremely valuable because they are made of precious metals. When he conveniently succumbs to a fatal heart attack, the girl realizes that absconding with his cash would make her the obvious perpetrator of a crime, so she steals his dentures before calling the police to report the death. The "sting in the tail" ending, however, may be about dentures but it lacks sufficient bite when the young woman gets her just desserts in an unexpected way. Hama is a charming screen presence and its nice to see her in an early role. Director Horikawa squanders the opportunity to showcase the visual splendors of Tokyo by largely confining the action to interiors. However, the segment is reasonably entertaining.
Japanese poster that played up the charms of Mie Hama.
The second episode is directed by Ugo Gregoretti and is probably the most satisfying of the lot. Set in Naples, it involves a prostitute (Gabriella Giorgetti) who has been dumped by her lover and who is now homeless and desperate for money. She is befriended by one of her clients, a shy, kindly law student who devises a scheme in which she can legally marry a poor, elderly man who lives in a city-run shelter. This will provide her with the legal protections she needs to ply her trade and no longer be harassed by police. (The segment dwells on the archaic codes of morality that affected every man and woman who lived in Naples at the time). Things seem to go well until she jilts her ancient "groom" and her slavish law student in order to reunite with her cruel ex-boyfriend, who uses the marriage scheme to set up his own business. Before long, it is thriving as he acts as a manager to set up prostitutes in sham marriages to poor old men. The ironic ending in which poetic justice is meted out to both the hooker and her lover is rather clever and amusing. The third segment, directed by Claude Chabrol involves a team of young, good-looking swindlers ( Jean-Pierre Cassel and Catherine Deneuve among them) who have a chance encounter with a rich, obnoxious German (Francis Blanche), who has an obsession with the Eiffel Tower and who maintains a collection of memorabilia relating to the legendary edifice. They convince him to come to Paris, where they have set up an elaborate phony corporate operation under the pretense that they have been solicited by Parisian officials to find someone suitable to sell the Eiffel Tower to. The gullible German is giddy with glee at the prospect of owning the landmark building. There are some funny moments in which he is guided around Paris by his "business partners" and wined and dined by them, even though he ends up paying the tab for everyone. The segment shows a lot of promise but fizzles out with an abrupt and completely unsatisfactory ending that makes one wonder if Chabrol had run out of film or a brisk wind swept away the last few pages of the script. In any event, the bland finale compromises the amusing scenes that precede it. The final segment, set in Marrakesh, Morocco, is directed by the estimable Jean-Luc Godard and features Jean Seberg as an American journalist who comes into possession of counterfeit money. The police inform her that a counterfeiting ring is wreaking havoc on the local economy. Intrigued, she manages to track down the culprit, who agrees to an being interviewed by her (not a very smart move if you're a wanted man). The counterfeiter (Charles Denner) is a local peasant with a somnambulistic personality who justifies his actions by explaining that he uses his ill-gotten gains to help poor people. The segment starts off intriguingly with some exotic shots of Marrakesh but quickly devolves into pretentious, nearly incomprehensible blather. Godard keeps the entire latter half of the story confined to a back alley and presents the counterfeiter in a series of boring closeups. One can only assume that Godard simply wanted a free holiday in Morocco, as the segment is a complete snooze and ends the film on a bland note.
The original cut of "The World's Most Beautiful Swindlers" contained a fifth segment about diamond smugglers in Amsterdam. It was directed by Roman Polanski (who is credited in the opening titles), who insisted some time ago that his segment be permanently removed from the film. The reasons why remain unknown. It's hard to image that Polanski's contribution could have been more anemic than most of those that remain- or perhaps he felt his was far superior and did not want it tainted by being included in a feature film he was not satisfied with. All we get to see of his segment are some clips that are included in the original trailer, which is the only extra on the Olive Films presentation. The film is a curiosity that might have some appeal to fans and scholars of European cinema of the 1960s but for general audiences it's probably a bit of a bore.
Below is some behind the scenes footage of Polanski filming his segment in Amsterdam (it does not appear on the Blu-ray)