By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Loser irritates hit man.
Ralf (Lino Ventura) works as a hit man and is hired to assassinate Louis Randoni (Xavier Depraz) who plans to testify against the mob. Ralf checks into a hotel room and plans to shoot Louis as he tries to enter the courthouse from his hotel window, which sits across the street from the court building. As he prepares for the hit he becomes distracted by Francois (Jacques Brel) in the neighboring room who attempts to kill himself after his wife leaves him. Ralf is concerned that Francois’s actions will elicit unwanted attention, so in an attempt to quiet him he ‘befriends’ him, which leads to many ironic scenarios.
The film was written by the prolific Francis Veber and based on his play. Ultimately it’s just a one-joke premise, but what makes it work are the two characters particularly the hit man who is portrayed in a serious way and never once betrays the essence of who he truly is, which is that of a cold blooded killer intent on doing his job and then moving on to his next. The comedy comes from his perturbed reactions at having to deal with a loser that despite his best intentions he can’t seem to ever get rid of.
Famous singer Brel does quite well as the clingy pest who is so wrapped up in his own personal quandaries that he fails to notice that his new ‘friend’ really isn’t his friend at all. Brel’s boyish looks plays well off of Ventura’s constantly stern expression and the plot becomes almost a constant play on errors as each one misreads the other.
The overall set design though is boring and the majority of action takes place solely inside the two hotel rooms, which eventually makes the proceedings quite static. It would’ve been nice to have had more of a conversation between the two as Brel does almost all of the talking while Ventura simply remains quiet while looking bored and angered, which is fun for a while, but more of a character arc could’ve been implemented.
The ending is a cop-out and not satisfying at all. I also felt Ventura was a bit too old and the character would’ve been more intimidating had it played by someone younger and more rugged although for the record Ventura plays the role perfectly especially when he gets injected with a drug that makes him tired and reluctantly dependent on Brel’s guidance.
In 2008 Veber directed a remake of this film, which met with some success. Also in 1981 director Billy Wilder did an American version of this with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau playing the two leads. That film ended up adding a few changes and will be reviewed tomorrow.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: September 20, 1973
Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes
Director: Edouard Molinaro
Studio: Mondex Films