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Film / Magnet of Doom

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Magnet of Doom (L'Aîné des Ferchaux) is a 1963 film from France directed by Jean-Pierre Melville.

Michael Maudet (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is a washed-up boxer. Shortly after becoming convinced he's a failure and quitting the game of boxing, Michael sees a help wanted ad in the paper and jumps at the opportunity for new employment.

The job is to be bodyguard and secretary to a financier, Dieudonné Ferchaux. It seems that Ferchaux is a crook who has been embezzling from his bank, and also, back in the day somewhere in France's African colonies, he straight-up murdered three troublesome natives. For both these reasons his arrest is imminent. After Michael takes the job the two of them make a hurried departure from France, leaving for New York just ahead of the cops.

Ferchaux hopes to retrieve some fifty million dollars deposited in a New York bank. However, the French have alerted American authorities and Ferchaux is unable to get his money. Ferchaux and Maudet succeed in retrieving a pile of cash hidden in a safety deposit box in another New York bank. Ferchaux, fearing arrest, has Maudet drive him to the American South, where he hopes to find transport to Venezuela so he can access more hidden money. On the way, the power dynamics between the two men begin to change.



  • Anti-Hero: Michael the protagonist is only too happy to abandon his hot girlfriend in France and help a criminal escape justice, and he's also quite willing to abandon Ferchaux at the end. But he does have a troubling sense of conscience.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: The MacGuffin for the second half of the movie. Ferchaux is unable to empty his New York bank account but he is successful in retrieving a large pile of cash from a safe deposit box. He and Maudet pack it in a briefcase.
  • Call-Back: When the thieves are ransacking the house near the end of the film, they find the boxing robe with the "MM" insignia on the back that Maudet was wearing in the opening scene.
  • Conscience Makes You Go Back: With Ferchaux weak and sick, Maudet simply takes the Briefcase Full of Money and leaves him, going off to be with Louise. But he has an attack of conscience and comes back, only to find Jeff and his partner in crime raiding the house.
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  • Cut Himself Shaving: For some reason, rather than admit he's a boxer, Maudet tells a ridiculous lie about the cut over his eyebrow. He claims that he fell down some stairs.
  • Droste Image: The "caught between two mirrors" variation of this as Ferchaux is walking around his mansion. It's to reinforce the idea of what a grand criminal he is, before he's brought low in the later half of the movie.
  • Faux Fluency: Several of the characters, like Angie the sexy hitchhiker (Italian actress Stefania Sandrelli) and the trucker that picks Angie up, give very poor renditions of American accents. (Surely the reason that Melville set the last third of the film in Cajun Louisiana was to make it more plausible for people to be running around speaking French.)
  • Narrator: Maudet sometimes comments on the action, like when he narrates in voiceover that he would have felt more guilty about plotting against Ferchaux if he hadn't been constantly watching the FBI on their tail.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Barkeeping: Played with in that it isn't simply a way to keep the bartender busy. Instead, while Jeff the bartender is idly cleaning a glass, he's also asking Michael pointed questions about where Ferchaux keeps the money.
  • Paid Harem: Presumably the only explanation for the presence of the two sexy nymphets wearing babydoll nighties as they casually lounge around Ferchaux's mansion. They call him "godfather".
  • Shout-Out: Right after leaving New York, Michael insists on stopping and paying a visit to the Hoboken, NJ apartment where Frank Sinatra was born.
  • Split Screen: Seen in the opening sequence with Michael in the boxing ring, fighting and losing. Sometimes it's a split screen with two different images of Michael, and sometimes it's a split screen with Michael on the left and the opening credits on the right.
  • Stealing from the Till: As revealed in an angry confrontation with the board of directors, Ferchaux has been stealing from the bank. He just barely makes it out of France before he's arrested.
  • There Are Two Kinds of People in the World: Ferchaux announces that there are three kinds of people in the world, "sheep, leopards, and jackals." He isn't sure which type Michael is, but he knows Michael isn't a sheep.
  • You Can Leave Your Hat On: Michael visits a strip club in the Red Light District of New Orleans and meets Louise, a very, very sexy stripper who also happens to be from France. The presence of the kindly Louise is what spurs Michael to finally abandon Ferchaux and take the money.

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