Return from the Ashes

Return from the Ashes is a 1965 British thriller film directed by J. Lee Thompson and starring Ingrid Thulin, Maximilian Schell, Samantha Eggar and Herbert Lom. It is based on a novel by French crime writer Hubert Monteilhet, adapted for film by prolific screenwriter Julius J. Epstein. The novel would also serve as the source material for the 2014 German film Phoenix, directed by Christian Petzold, though the latter film makes multiple changes to the book's elements and concerns itself solely with the plot to reclaim an inheritance.

Return from the Ashes
Directed byJ. Lee Thompson
Written byJulius J. Epstein (screenplay)
Hubert Monteilhet (novel)
StarringMaximilian Schell
Ingrid Thulin
Samantha Eggar
Music byJohn Dankworth
CinematographyChristopher Challis
Edited byRussell Lloyd
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
19 November 1965
Running time
105 min.
CountryUnited Kingdom

Plot summary

Shortly before the Nazi invasion of France, Dr. Michele Wulf (Thulin) encounters the younger Stanislaus Pilgrin (Schell) over a game of lightning chess, not being aware that Pilgrin is a chess master. She becomes intrigued with the fortune-hunting Pilgrin and the two begin a liaison. Upon the Nazi invasion, in order to protect Michele, who is Jewish, Stan marries her, to no avail it turns out when the Gestapo arrests her and sends her to a concentration camp.

Sometime after the war, Michele returns under the identity of Mme. Robert and encounters her colleague, plastic surgeon Dr. Charles Bovard (Lom), who at first does not recognize her because of her disfigured state. She undergoes plastic surgery to restore some of her looks and then by chance encounters Stan, who believes her to have died during the war. Surprised at the resemblance, Stan tells her that Michele's step-daughter Fabi (Eggar) cannot inherit her step-mother's estate because no body was ever produced. He asks "Mme. Robert" to impersonate Michele and she agrees. Upon moving back into her own house, Michele quickly becomes aware that Fabi, now a beautiful woman, resents her for her former neglect, and what is worse, is now Stan's lover. Eventually, Michele reveals herself and insists on resuming her relationship with her husband.

While taking a bath after consuming alcohol and barbiturates, the jealous Fabi tells Stan her plan for killing her step-mother. Stan will go to another city on the pretext of attending a chess championship. He will set up a gun to go off when Michele opens her safe. After establishing his alibi, he will call her and tell her that he has put a gift for her in the safe. When he hears the shot, he will know she is dead, and he can return home to adjust the scene to make the death appear a suicide.

Though it is not clear if Fabi is serious, the amoral Stan drowns her in the bathtub in such a way that it looks like an accident related to an overdose, and then carries out her plan. When he returns, he discovers what appears to be Michele's body, but is caught by the police in the act of manipulating the scene. Charles, who has loved Michele all along, had entered the room just as she was opening the safe and caused her to step aside to avoid the bullet.



Variety in its original review said that "Return from the Ashes does not always reach its mark as a thriller... Thompson... establishes a tense mood frequently, but level of interest suffers from character fuzziness which occasionally clouds the issue."[1]

Differences from the novel

The film softens some of the darkness of the 1961 source novel, Le Retour des cendres. There it is her husband who betrayed her to the Germans and it is the girl, her daughter by a previous husband rather than a stepdaughter, who kills her in the end.


  1. Staff, Variety; Staff, Variety (1 January 1965). "Return from the Ashes". Variety. Retrieved 5 August 2019.
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