Entry updated 18 September 2023. Tagged: Film.
French film (1939). Original title Le Monde Tremblera; vt The World Will Tremble; vt La Révolt des Vivants. Based on La Machine à prédire la mort (October 1938-January 1939 Ric et Rac; 1939) by Francis Didelot and Charles Robert-Dumas. Compagnie Industrielle et Commerciale Cinématographique (CICC). Directed by Richard Pottier. Written by Henri-Georges Clouzot. Cast: Raymond Aimos, Julien Carette, Claude Dauphin, Roger Duchesne, Madeleine Sologne and Erich von Stroheim. 107 minutes. Black and white.
With the financial support of "Frank" (von Stroheim), Scientist Dr. Jean Durand (Dauphin) has invented a Machine that tells you when you will die (see Precognition) – but he needs a subject to prove its veracity. A prostitute declines the opportunity, but fortuitously Jean and his assistant, Julien Bartaz (Carette) discover an intruder (Aimos) hiding from murderous pursuers: he reluctantly agrees to be the guinea-pig.
The machine lines a wall of the laboratory, with a chair at one end where an instrument is pointed at the subject's head: there are flashing lights, dials, screens, big handles and so forth. When the process is complete a narrow wooden slipcase is removed, containing what resembles a photographic plate, upon whose glass a graph line in black ink appears (where it drops indicates death). This is processed by another machine, revealing the man has 20 minutes to live. They give him a hearty meal, then he leaves through a window – shortly after we hear a shot: Jean is delighted; Bartaz, his conscience troubled, less so.
The wealthy flock to Jean to have their lifespans revealed: those who learn it will be brief react differently. A lawyer goes mad; a business tycoon decides to ruin an enemy by triggering a stockmarket crash, causing mass unemployment and protests against the device. Meanwhile, "Frank" – who is massively in debt – tries to force Jean to use the machine to make money from life insurance; whilst Jean's friend, Gérard Gallois (Duchesne), a doctor, voices concern over the effect of such knowledge on society (see Sociology) and compares Jean to the Sorcerer's Apprentice from a 1797 poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, imminently to be a segment in Disney's Fantasia (1940) (see The Walt Disney Company). These worries are echoed by Jean's girlfriend, Marie-France Lasserre (Sologne), whose father, it turns out, is "Frank" (real name Emil). Jean, though accepting that the device will bring change, believes it will largely be beneficial (see Optimism and Pessimism). The film also focuses on the romantic triangle of Marie-France, Gérard and Jean, with the latter becoming jealous of the growing intimacy between the other two.
Jean discovers he has 11 days to live; later he persuades Gérard to also have a reading. After comparing his plate with Gérard's (which has a much longer horizontal line before plummeting) he throws the latter's into the bin, then calls Gérard in to say he has but 11 days left. On that day, with protestors baying at the gates, they confront each other in the laboratory – both are armed: Jean draws first but ends up shot in the stomach. This causes him to reflect and confess to the switching of the plates, with his last words – whilst looking at the machine – being "Démolir ça" ("Demolish it"). Rather suddenly, we cut to it exploding and "Fin" appearing on the screen.
Though focused on his own ends, Jean is neither evil nor a Mad Scientist; however, the success and acclaim for his Invention does feed his vanity. The film is more thoughtful than others of its era where scientists are deemed to have wandered into the Almighty's territory: it deserves to be better known. It should be noted that though Robert A Heinlein's "Life-Line" (August 1939 Astounding) has a similar device, it was published after both the source story and the film; it is unlikely that he was aware of either. [SP]
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