Whether you’ve been the one cheated on or the cheater himself, both sides of the coin are well-represented in Le Dos Au Mur, a little appreciated 1958 film directed by Edouard Molinaro and adapted from his own novel, Deliver Us From Evil, by Frédéric Dard. Centered on a seemingly happy married couple, the film opens at one of its climactic crescendos as Jacques Decrey (Gérard Oury) has just buried the lover of his wife, Gloria (Jeanne Moreau), who he has so long put on a pedestal, after months of carrying out a meticulously psychotic strategy to keep them apart.
To add insult to injury, the man Gloria is (or rather, was) dabbling in infidelity with, Yves Normand (Philippe Nicaud), is a middling actor with a predilection for gambling and a bank account that reflects his talentlessness in both areas. Nonetheless, Gloria is far more attracted to him for his passionate nature than she is to her tired-as-an-old-shoe husband. Not one to be cuckolded without putting up a fight, Jacques hatches a plan to seek the ultimate vengeance on his wife for betraying him: getting her to believe that Yves has betrayed her so that she will never see him again.
Setting the wheels in motion, Jacques hires a private detective who is both shocked and elated to find out that he already knows his wife is cheating, and merely wants to teach her a lesson for doing so. Once the private eye furnishes Jacques with the series of incriminating photos he needs to begin blackmailing Gloria, he sits back and watches her squirm as she tiptoes around the matter by asking him for the money–under the guise of first losing her valuable ring and then needing new clothes.
As the blackmail amount increases, Gloria starts to run out of ideas, confiding her problem to a barmaid and former lover of Yves’ named Ghislaine (Claire Maurier). Unbeknownst to Gloria, however, Jacques has already put his hooks into Ghislaine so that she’ll help convince Gloria of Yves’ impure motives in sleeping with her (it is Jacques’ intention to steer Gloria in the direction of believing that Yves is the one blackmailing her).
With everything going according to Jacques’ plan, the one thing he never accounts for is just how much it will break Gloria’s heart to learn of Yves’ supposed backstabbing. So simultaneously enraged and lugubrious over the planted proof that confirms to her Yves’ guilt, Gloria ends up killing Yves as he’s shaving in his bathroom in preparation for an acting gig abroad (one he was lured on by Jacques paying off the private eye to portray a theater producer). Just as Yves turns and asks her, “Do you love me?,” she pulls the trigger.
Now that she’s gotten herself into this bind, Gloria decides to calmly confess everything to Jacques, who ends up both forgiving her and taking responsibility for the cleanup of the mess. So racked with guilt over how far he pushed her, Jacques handles the disposal of the body all by himself, cementing him in a new wall in front of his factory without ever telling her what he did with the remains.
Feeling that maybe there was at least one positive reason for this affair to happen when things between him and Gloria actually start to go back to normal, Jacques’ is finally comfortable enough by Christmastime to confess to Gloria where he buried Yves’ body. Rather than being scandalized or upset, Gloria forgives him. But Jacques’ world crumbles yet again after she discovers the fake passport Jacques used to send anonymous blackmail letters from the post office to her. The fatal ending is proof that, in vengeance, there is always unexpected collateral.
But when your back’s against the wall (the literal translation of the film’s title) in love–and deception of that love–what choice does one have but to go to extreme lengths–both of punishment and, ultimately, self-sacrifice?