In Eyes Without a Face, mad scientist Docteur Génessier, whose specialty is transplanting tissue from one person to another, is working to overcome the tendency of the recipient to reject the foreign tissue. He also has a practical purpose, which is grafting a new face on his daughter, Christiane, who was disfigured in an automobile accident that was his fault. His Igor is Louise, played by Alida Valli, whose disfigured face was restored by Génessier, for which reason she is extremely loyal to him and willing to aid him in his evil doings. In particular, Louise picks up young women who look the way Christiane did before her disfigurement, takes them to Génessier’s house so he can remove their faces and transplant them onto Christiane. Unfortunately, he has thus far been unsuccessful, the result of which is that a bunch of dead women’s bodies without faces keep turning up, all of whom seem to be of the same physical type. In fact, we see Louise dump one such woman into a river at the beginning of the movie. One way in which all the women are similar is that they all have blue eyes. Now, this makes no sense, because Christiane’s eyes are fine, hence the title: she has the eyes; what she needs is a face. So why the women whose faces are being removed have to have blue eyes is a mystery.
Génessier identifies the woman found in the river as his daughter so that people, including her boyfriend Jacques, a doctor who works in Génessier’s clinic, will think she is dead and not wonder where she is, for only Génessier, Louise, and Christiane know of her horribly burned face. In the meantime, Christiane wears a mask around the house so as not to gross everyone out including herself. The mask is an immobile version of what she used to look like. One of the amazing things about this mask, which allows us a clear view of her eyes, is how expressive her “face” is. We have all heard the expression, “The eyes are a window to the soul.” This movie really demonstrates it. We get a good sense of what Christiane is feeling and thinking as she walks around the house owing only to the expressiveness of her eyes.
Louise’s next victim is Edna. She tricks her into getting into the car with her, and the next thing you know, Edna is strapped to the operating table having her face lifted, so to speak. We actually get a glimpse of her face after the skin has been removed, squarely placing this film into the category of Grand Guignol. At first the transplant seems to be a success, but eventually it becomes necrotic and has to be removed again. Back on goes the mask. For some reason, Génessier keeps Edna alive, as if he is doing her a favor, but she leaps to her death. Adding to the creepiness of this movie are all the big, howling dogs Génessier has locked up in small cages to be used for his transplant experiments.
One of Edna’s friends reports her missing. She tells the police about the woman that Edna said she was going somewhere with, but all she can say by way of identification is that Edna said the woman wore a pearl choker (Louise wears a choker to hide the scar on her neck). Later, Jacques receives a strange phone call from Christiane, who misses him terribly. She only utters his name, but he recognizes her voice. He goes to the police, and when Inspector Parot mentions the pearl choker in passing, Jacques thinks of Louise. As a result, she and Dr. Génessier become suspects.
A woman named Paulette, who fits the profile of missing girls, blue eyes and all, is picked up by the police for shoplifting. Parot and another inspector threaten her with prosecution unless she acts as a decoy. She agrees to go to Génessier’s clinic and fake an illness. And here is the point in the movie where police incompetence becomes so absurd that it is laughable. Do they have a plainsclothes officer watching the clinic to see what happens to her when she is discharged? No. And so, when Paulette is released late at night and walks down the street to get a bus, she is offered a ride by Louise and accepts. Too bad nobody is around to see her get in the car.
Jacques calls Inspector Parot to let him know Paulette has left the clinic. Parot concludes that this puts Génessier and Louise in the clear, since they obviously did not kidnap Paulette, but let her leave the clinic instead. However, Parot decides to make sure she got home all right. Gosh! She never got home. So the two inspectors drive out to Génessier’s clinic just to be sure. They ask Génessier if Paulette was released from clinic. Yes she was, he tells them. The inspectors shrug and go home, concluding it was just a false trail and the choker was just one big coincidence.
Before Paulette’s face can be peeled off, Christiane releases her from the table, stabs Louise in the neck right through the choker, and releases the dogs, who then go after Génessier, ripping half his face off. Christiane wanders off into the woods with one of the doves she also released perched on her hand, just to give the movie a little symbolism. You see, this is a French film, so you can’t expect it to make sense the way a Hollywood production would.