Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe (Le Grand blond avec une chaussure noire)

The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe(1972)
Directed by
Yves Robert
Written by Yves Robert, Francis Veber
Starring Pierre Richard, Bernard Blier, Jean Rochefort, Alphonse Toulouse, Mireille Darc, Colette Castel, Jean Carmet
IMDB Entry

Foreign comedies all tend to be forgotten.  If they are any good, an inferior US version is rushed into place and no one sees the original.  Another part of this is the culture gap:  what is funny to a Frenchman may not seem that way in the US.  The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe is funny in any language.

I think it’s because of the wide range of humor.  There’s the very European reaction comedy, where the humor is in the character’s very human reactions to situations.  There’s also some bawdy comedy and out-and-out slapstick.

I suppose this could best be categorized as a spy spoof.  Toulouse (Jean Rochfort), the head of a spy agency, discovers his second in command, Milan (Benard Blier) is plotting against him.  In order to ferret out the plot, Toulouse pretends he has a super secret investigator coming, and Francois (Pierre Richard) is chosen to be the decoy solely on the basis of his footwear.

Francois is a classical violinist, and, of course, is oblivious.  Milan’s men get on the case, bugging his apartment, watching his every move, sending a beautiful female spy (Marielle Darc) to seduce him (so it isn’t all bad for him).

Pierre Richard is wonderful as Francois.  He is a tall, gawky actor, with wild blond hair and a perpetually bemused look (he reminds me visually of an older, gawkier version of Napoleon Dynamite).  He is the eye of the hurricane of plots going around him, as the two groups of spies keep trying to turn the tables on each other.

Especially good is Jean Carmet as Maurice, Francois’s best friend.  Maurice keeps stumbling upon the spies and their work:  corpses disappear, he hears his wife having sex in a flower van (actually, the spies' listening post) Carmet’s reaction to the goings on is one of the high points.

There was the inevitable US remake: The Man with One Red Shoe with Tom Hanks -- not a film that Hanks points to with pride on his resume.  There was also a sequel The Return of the Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe, which I haven't seen, but which seems to be well regarded.

Other than the sequel, none of Robert's movies were particularly well known in the US.  Richard had a comedy success with Les Comperes, which also spawned an inferior US version (Father's Day).  Jean Rochefort was a major European star, and, unfortunately, didn’t star in The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.

So don't let the subtitles put you off:  this is a film worth seeking out.

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