Coup de Torchon (1981) from Tuna

Coup de Torchon, a French language film released in the USA as Clean Up, is based on "Pop. 1280," an American pulp novel by Jim Thompson. The noted French director Bertrand Tavernier read the book and very much wanted to make it into a movie, but could find no way to adapt the story to a French locale. It concerns a southern sheriff who gets no respect, and one day decides to start killing the people who make his life difficult. Since there's nothing comparable to a small-town sheriff in France, and the theme of racial differences wouldn't quite work, he was stuck until it occurred to him to set it in French Equatorial Africa in a time just before WW II, when the local policemen were very sheriff-like, and a handful of decadent French were riding roughshod over the black population. Tavernier shot the film on location and made an effort to present a realistic Africa, with a muted color palette, and dusty streets.

Philippe Noiret plays the ostensibly feckless local policeman who never arrests anyone, and is the butt of local jokes. He gets less respect from the community than Rodney Dangerfield, and things are no better at home. His wife harasses him, steals all of his cash from his pockets, and seems to be sexually involved with a house guest she claims is her brother. He does find his own diversions with a school teacher (Irčne Skobline) and the abused wife (Isabelle Huppert) of a local blowhard. One day, he decides he has had enough, and starts killing those who are a thorn in his side, making up stories to cover their deaths.

Philippe Noiret is excellent as a man who has completely hidden the fact that he is intelligent, and hence can get away with his schemes. Unfortunately, the deliberate pace makes this a hard watch for me. Although the film was clearly intended to be a very dark comedy, it just doesn't have good comedic timing -- everything is too slow and methodical.

This is far from the only film adapted from Jim Thompson's writing. The Getaway, The Grifters, and After Dark, My Sweet are others that come to mind. I can't help but wonder if there is room for an American film in Pop. 1280. The only drawback is that the MPAA would likely ruin it. The American distributors narrowly avoided an NC-17 rating for the French version by trimming a scene in which Noiret shoves his hand under Huppert's skirt.



  • Exclusive Video Interview With Bertrand Tavernier
  • An Alternate Ending
  • U.S. Theatrical Trailer
  • Widescreen (1.66) anamorphic


  • Isabelle Huppert - full frontal and rear nudity
  • Irčne Skobline shows her breasts in the shower.
DVD Source novel

The Critics Vote ...


The People Vote ...

  • Box office: 2.2 million admissions in France. That means it was quite successful, roughly as popular as an $80 million film in the contemporary USA. (France had 54 million people in 1981, so the ticket sales to 4% of the population are roughly equivalent to 12 million tickets in today's U.S.)
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C, a worthwhile film for those unopposed to subtitles.

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