By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Following the wrong man.
Bernard Milan (Bernard Blier) and Louise Toulouse (Jean Rochefort) are two rivals within the French Intelligence agency with each looking to unseat the other from their position of power. To counterattack his rival’s ambitions Louise decides to trick the other side into wasting their time by getting them to believe that a man chosen at random is a spy and having them follow him around even though in reality he has no connections to the spy game at all. Violinist Francois (Pierre Richard) gets chosen when he is spotted at the airport wearing only one black shoe. Bernard and his men fall for the bait and follow around Francois wherever he goes and eavesdrop on his conversations like there is some hidden meaning in whatever he says and does, which leads to many amusing results.
The film’s main charm is its satirical jab at governmental bureaucracy and the way they spend so much time and money on wasteful elements that lead nowhere while blithely ignoring the bigger problems. It also playfully taps into the foibles of human nature and how people, once they are convinced of something, will continue to believe it to the point of willfully rejecting or rationalizing evidence that may point elsewhere.
The best bit comes with the overly serious facial expressions that Blier and his subordinates show as they intently listen into Francois’ lovemaking with a woman (Colette Castel). The slapstick during one of Francois concerts and the side-story dealing with Francois’ friend Maurice (Jean Carmet) who thinks he may be going nuts as he spots the spies at various times when no else does are equally side-splitting.
Pierre Richard, who was not the original choice for the part, is perfect in the lead with his flaming, curly, disheveled hair the perfect look for a man that’s just a bit out-of-touch with world around him. The fact that he continues about his daily life while oblivious to all the spying going on around him makes it even funnier and I liked that despite the character being on the goofy side he still ends up coming off like a real person albeit on the eccentric end.
The script by Francis Veber manages to sustain its comical edge throughout, but like with many of his other plots it borders on stretching its one-joke too thin and seeming more like a collection of gags than an actual plot. The humor is funny enough that it works, but the story still lacks a second or third act and could’ve ended sooner than it does. The film also fails to show the most crucial moment of the story, which is why Francois was wearing one black shoe to begin with. It gets briefly explained later, but this is a scene that should’ve been shown right up front before any of the rest of it got played-out.
In 1985 20th Century Fox did an American remake of this film that starred Tom Hanks and was called The Man with One Red Shoe, which will be reviewed tomorrow.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: December 6, 1972
Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes
Director: Yves Robert
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube