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Le Magnifique

Review: Le Magnifique

[Originally published in Movietone News 49, April 1976]

Who needs a spoof of Bondian spy flicks in 1976? (For that matter, who needed one in 1973 when this film was made?) For a reel or so, that’s all that Le Magnifique seems to be up to. The reel isn’t hard to endure: Le Magnifique—or rather, one-man fighting machine Bob St. Clare—is personified by Jean-Paul Belmondo, whose wit, egocentricity, and slaloming physicality are not only entertaining but also as endearing as ever. And Philippe de Broca is officially in charge, and hitting his marks frequently enough that we recall how often and how deftly he took our breath away in L’Homme de Rio and other, only slightly lesser Sixties comedies which mixed action and/or enchantment with their slapstick and drollery. In one magical instance, a backward-zooming camera pans a troupe of white-jacketed porters bearing a dozen articles of white luggage at full trot across a Mexican tarmac, to scarlet spy lady Jacqueline Bisset sitting in a sportscar and Belmondo, in dashing tropical spy haberdashery, describing a slowmotion vault into the shot and into the passenger seat of the car—the shot proceeding fluidly and funnily out of the foregoing action, accreting elements and building from chuckle to belly laugh, and then winking away before it can flatten out into complacent savoring of a comic coup. But too many comic moments aren’t magical, and seem embarrassingly anachronistic. Again, who needs a spy spoof now? As de Broca piles joke atop joke on the theme of how callously and carelessly his hero deals out death (during a passionate kiss his hollow tooth containing his emergency cyanide capsule is sucked out by the heroine and spat into a hotel swimming pool instantly awash with the corpses of other guests), it begins to look as if Le Magnifique might be yet another well-meaning but dreary protest about the decreasing value of human life in the contemporary, CIA-pervaded world.

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