The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe Collection Review
My first experience of Jean Rochefort's particular magic was as a student seeing the Hairdresser's Husband for the first time. He had a goofy eccentricity and an individual physical magic that I loved and have associated with him since. Now having caught more of his many performances in cinema, I am confident in saying that he is an actor apart from others, a scene stealer, and a joy to watch whatever the quality of the film. In L'Homme du Train he gave pathos to a pretty far fetched character, in his films with Chabrol he excels as an agent of destruction in Death Rites and the amoral lawyer in Innocents with Dirty Hands, and in all these films he is a shining beacon of irreverence. This amoral charm is further explored in Yves Robert's Tall Blond Man films as he plays the head of a spy network with a cunning and quirky machiavellian nature. His machinations and supreme intellect are far more entertaining than the slapstick and spy homage in the rest of the films even if he is occasionally undermined by a script which turns tail from the plot or character motivation with little good reason or warning. Still Rochefort is not the focus of the film, even if he is its chief treasure.
In the first film, Colonel Toulouse(Rochefort) is aware of his ambitious deputy, Milan, and his plot to succeed him and decides to inveigle him in a trumped up intrigue. He sends his right hand man to the airport where he greets a man entirely by random whilst Milan's henchmen watch. He chooses a tall blond Man with odd shoes. Convinced this stranger is some kind of super-spy or hitman sent to hunt Milan down, Milan's crew attempt to compromise this innocent musician and to eradicate his threat to them. They learn about his life, his friends, his affair with his best friend's wife and read threatening significance into his banal existence. Manipulated by Toulouse, seduction and, eventually, attempted assassination befall the innocent. In the sequel, Toulouse is threatened by the investigation into Milan's downfall and the authorities search for the musician in their enquiries, necessitating Toulouse to attempt to eradicate the problem by a mixture of bungled assassinations and elaborate hoaxes to convince the world that the reluctant violinist is the French James Bond. Both films evince a kind of jaunty charm and enjoy homage to espionage films as well as satire. They rely heavily on farce and slapstick and never overstay their welcome.
The farce sequences are best in the first film where Pierre Richard, the title character, is oblivious to the threats around him and his friends are similarly put off kilter by the strange events around them. The first film has a more serious intent to satirise the work of secret agents and to exploit the paranoia of those whose job it is to watch us. meaningless activities such as going to the Dentist become immensely significant, and the spies' incompetence is regularly exposed through gags such as the substitution of shaving cream. The first film also has some delicious moments of irony where Milan and his crew are voyeurs of the musician's life, like us as the viewer, they watch his seduction on TV sat around dressed as if they were at the opera and we watch them! Other humour is mined by the piling up of dead bodies in Richard's apartment and his gawky innocence. The second film is less ashamed of going straight for the comic jugular and specialises in slapstick. Gone is the consistent characterisation or relative fidelity to plot, and the film simply concentrates on tickling the funny bone. It opens with an excellent sequence where two goons are sent to bump off Richard in his Brazillian refuge and find there efforts are frustrated by his luck and eccentricity as his accidental competence again raises suspicions that he is the real deal. Returned to home, the film requires Richard to play at being a spy in choreographed sequences which make fun of the genre complete with ripped off Bond theme. The more elegant farce of the first film is swamped in pratfalls and character volte-faces that leave the viewer dizzy rather than applauding elegant twists of plot, as Toulouse becomes the hunted rather than the hunter.
The series is immensely watchable and, even if part two does not live up the original film, it manages to provide much amusement and make good use of Rochefort. Francis Veber's dialogue is witty and has a good ear for the spy genre and Robert's direction keeps events flying along at breakneck speed. Consequently the films are well written, well acted and silly and entertaining, they aren't high art or elegant parody but they make you laugh and keep you from boredom.
The two films are presented here without extras on a dual layer disc. Due to the eccentricities of the disc, I have been unable to provide screenshots for this review. Both films are given anamorphic transfers and the quality of the video is fine if not exceptional. Both transfers show a fair amount of grain and look a little colour and contrast boosted. The image quality in the first film is a little more variable than the second with colours in skintones seeming inconsistent and becoming too warm at times. The transfers are sharp but some sequences in the print are more worn and consequently lack detail. The audio quality is again acceptable but not excellent, with some distortion in crescendos in the score especially the sequences with the orchestra and Mireille Darc's seduction of Richard. There are signs of wear and tear with background noise, but the audio is always clear in terms of dialogue and any imperfections are far from distracting. The English subtitles which follow the film do the unenviable task of trying to convey any wordplay or culture specific jokes, and concentrate on translating in terms of sense rather than being over literal.
Although I enjoyed the films chiefly for Rochefort's rogueish villain, they are quite entertaining examples of the spy spoofs that followed the Bond films of the sixties. In terms of economy, this disc is a tempting purchase for fans of the genre but don't purchase it expecting a pristine transfer.