THE TALL BLOND MAN WITH ONE BLACK SHOE
Directed by: Yves Robert
Written by: Yves Robert, Vincent Weber
Featuring: Pierre Richard, Bernard Blier, Jean Rochfort, Mirelle Darc, Collette Castel, Jean Obe, Maurice Barrier, Roger Caccia, Jean Carmet
The French Secret Service is having an undisclosed, unacknowledged ‘civil war.’ One faction led by Colonel Toulouse decides to use a ‘patsy’ to draw out the members of their opponents, led by Colonel Milan. The man they randomly choose is an orchestra violinist Francois Perrin, talented but gauche, he has problems of his own, having an affair with his best friend’s wife Paulette is weighing heavily on his mind. Into this mess comes the agents amongst them is Christine who is used as a honey-trap to get information from what she and her colleagues think is the top agent.
This is the original French version of The Man with One Red Shoe, or at least it strongly influenced the Tom Hanks starrer that I freely admit I cannot remember.
Certainly, going into the film with no preconceived ideas and not really knowing the type and style of film it was helped. What I found was a spoof of Le Carre-style espionage stories that funnily enough if you took out the comedic elements would have made an intriguing tale. As it is the comedy is there mainly from Richard’s Perrin whose gormlessness and accident-prone moments are surprisingly underplayed and do not spoil the broth.
This is not to say when Richard winds up to the physical comedy we do not get its magnificent pratfalls and silliness but they are self-contained and do not overpower the film or story for the entire running time. Mixed in with the more subtle relationship between the word weary Perrache, the excellent Paul Le Person, and his prissy and devious boss Toulouse, an equally lively and fun Jean Rochefort and your smile rarely leaves your face throughout the running time.
As I said though underneath the daftness there is an interesting, if slight, spy story playing out that would have made a cool espionage movie. So much so the makers do not hide from death and the utter bastardy of the Secret Service. The beautiful Christine, played by the alluring and ultimately tragic Mirelle Darc is there to seduce and then hand over the unknowing Perrin to a sticky end. That she does not is part of the story.
Of course, we do get to see the much vaunted and now museum piece ‘bum cleavage’ dress which admittedly draped over Darc looks fine but really is very silly indeed.
The strength of this film, like so many I give my opinions on, is not the story or the writing, although that helps, it is the actors. Everyone involved give their best with Colonel Milan and Toulouse’s various hit and henchmen and women all playing straight and fleshing out what could be cardboard characters. In particular, Perrin’s orchestra colleagues, and lover, played by Collette Castel and Jean Carmet compliment Richard as his ordinary and unknowing colleague, Carmet’s comedy chops are on full display here, never too straight nor over-the-top but fully balanced as the cuckolded best-friend Maurice.
Overall The Tall Blonde Man with One Black Shoe is surprisingly fun for a slapstick spy comedy from nearly 50 years ago, Richard out-Benignis Benigni by dialling back from eleven and with dead-straight thriller threads weaved throughout the film, we have a good mix.
Certainly good enough to sit back, relax, take a look at French fashions and cars from decades back and laugh.
Definitely strong enough to withstand a viewing many years later.