DVD Review: The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers

STUDIO: Olive | DIRECTORS: Hiromichi Horikawa, Ugo Gregoretti, Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard | STARS: Jean-Pierre Cassel, Catherine Deneuve, Jean Seberg, Mie Hama, Guido Giuseppone, Gabriella Giorgelli
RELEASE DATE: 4/25/17 | PRICE: DVD $14.95, Blu-ray $29.95
BONUSES: trailer
SPECS: NR | 97 min. | Foreign language comedy | 2.35:1 widescreen | mono English, French, Italian and Japanese with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video 

When arthouse films were a thriving commodity in the Sixties quite a few anthology films were made, featuring the talents of the world’s top filmmakers. The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers, a quartet of “con artist” tales from 1964, is a very entertaining example of this nearly defunct phenomenon.

The theme here is indeed “the art of the con,” and the four tales reflect different aspects of fleecing an unwitting “mark.” The original theatrical version contained a fifth story set in Amsterdam directed by Roman Polanski, but that was officially removed from the picture “by the request of the filmmaker” many years ago, if a French title card included in the film is any indication.

As it stands, the film moves across three continents. We start off in Japan with director Hiromichi Horikawa crafting a tale of a bar hostess (Mie Hama, You Only Live Twice) who endears herself to a rich old man (Ken Mitsuda) who keeps all his money in a bag he carries with him — and in his very high-priced set of dentures.

The second tale, written and directed by Ugo Gregoretti, tells of a prostitute (Gabriella Giorgelli) whose admirer (Beppe Mannaiuolo) comes up with a plan to beat a new law exiling prostitutes from Naples. He suggests she marry a senior who is a Neapolitan citizen, which, in turn, inspires her pimp (Guido Giuseppone) to start a business that marries off local hookers to single male seniors.

From Italy we move to Paris, where a con man (Jean-Pierre Cassel, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie), his girlfriend (Catherine Deneuve, Belle de Jour) and their confederates try to bilk a rich Swiss Francophile by “selling” him the Eiffel Tower. The segment is directed by the late, great Claude Chabrol (Les Cousins).

Jean Seberg in Jean-Luc Godard’s segment of The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers.

The final segment was shot in Marrakesh by Jean-Luc Godard (Weekend). Jean Seberg stars (the only time she worked with Godard after Breathless) as an American TV reporter and camerawoman who is investigating counterfeit money that is circulating throughout the city. Like the Chabrol segment, there is no “twist” ending found here — just a fascinating meditation on the media and the way that fake money can be just as valuable to the poor.

The segments by Horikawa and Gregoretti are enjoyable, but their names are unknown to most film buffs. The Chabrol episode — co-written by his frequent collaborator, scripter Paul Gegauff — perfectly fits into his body of work, as it concerns an amoral, bourgeois group of crooks who have no compunction about the scam they’re pulling.

The Godard segment is also an extension of his feature work, as it counterpoints sound and image (we hear ambient noises as Seberg interviews the counterfeiter), a literary work is cited right at the beginning (The Confidence Man by Herman Melville) and the characters directly address the camera as they speak.

It’s invaluable to finally have this Godard short available legally in the U.S., as Swindlers has never been released on DVD or VHS. The only time that Americans have seen any of the short is in Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou, where he has Belmondo watching it in a movie theater for a minute or two in the middle of the film.

The film’s theme song is an unexpected surprise — a tune called “L’Escroc” (The Swindle), written and sung by Serge Gainsbourg (the song was never included on any Gainsbourg album). The film’s original French trailer is included in this release. It too is very interesting, as it mentions and shows scenes from the Polanski segment, but oddly doesn’t include a single reference to Godard or Seberg (although shots from their segment are shown very briefly).

Buy or Rent The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers

About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”