Alain Delon plays Marc, a crook caught sleeping with the wrong woman, the property of a big man in the Mob. Taken out to the Mediterranean coast of France to be whacked, Marc manages to escape by commandeering a car and driving it over a cliff, then hopping across some railroad tracks just before a train roars by. Ragged and bruised, he hitchhikes into the nearest city and hides among the homeless in a mission shelter. Meals are provided by a glamorous pair of American women: Barbara (Lola Albright), a widow who owns a mysterious mansion, and her cousin Melinda (Jane Fonda). They just happen to be looking for a new chauffeur, too, ideally a guy who looks good in a Kato uniform.
Delon: from frying pan to fire
Jane Fonda as Melinda
Lola Albright as Barbara
"Neo-gothic" is right, right down to the gimmick of the secret room and its possible occupant. It's only fitting, too, since film noir is arguably crime cinema with a gothic tinge, while Clement's film of Keene's story is a "neo-gothic" way station from noir to something else, something closer to the "swinging gothic" style of the giallo. It puts Delon in an extreme noir situation, caught between two rival femmes fatales, on top of an ultimately familiar noir plot. It ends up feeling like a cross between His Kind of Woman and The Beguiled, and in cocky gigolo mode Delon makes the perfect mark for the story, confident of his manly power to master the situation while someone is almost always a step ahead of him. As the femmes (the felins tag extends to Delon's character, described as a "wildcat"), Albright (best known as Peter Gunn's love interest) and Fonda control the tension between them quite nicely, letting it build gradually as you wonder which will backstab the other first. Also worthy of note is Sorrell "Boss Hogg" Brooke as a picturesque mobster shutterbug stalking Delon.
The prisoner of "Joy House"
Les Felins is slick and sleek throughout, thanks to Schifrin's moody music and Henri Decae's sharp cinematography. Clement keeps things moving with the occasional burst of action while slowly building the tension in the main triangle. There's nothing profound here but it'll keep you entertained and perhaps a little chilled by the end. I recommend it most for fans of Fonda and Delon and Euro-thriller enthusiasts in general.
Here's a French "Les Felins" trailer with English subtitles, uploaded to YouTube by icsprks.