[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]
An undercurrent of black humor flows just beneath the comic surface of Yves Robert’s genuinely and—for the most part—unpretentiously funny movie, but it never quite manages to rise above the laughter, not even when the spy game gets out of hand and people are lying around with bullet holes in their heads. Even though there are killings—five of them, in fact, all toward the end of the story—we are left not so much with a feeling of death as of encroaching madness. Maurice, the protagonist’s friend and colleague who sees and hears everything but understands nothing of what is really going on, feels he is simply going insane; for him, that’s the easiest way to explain the disappearance of some of the dead bodies from François’s apartment. The slow-motion treatment of the shootout scene itself, in which the opposing government agents handily exterminate one another, underscores the dreamlike quality of their deaths; moments later, the surviving thug shoots one of his superiors, then remembers himself and returns the man’s gun to him, whereupon victim promptly shoots his assassin—a clearly absurd transaction it is difficult to take very seriously. Throughout this movie, Robert plays intriguing little games, both with his characters and with us. The whole spy vs. spy premise around which the plot revolves is, initially at least, just an enlarged practical joke: Louis, the head man whose position is being undermined by an ambitious Lieutenant (rather in the fashion of corporation VPs civilly cutting one another’s throats) simply wants to teach the usurper Milan a lesson, not to bring about his death. The “lesson” involves setting up a booby trap with François Perrin (Pierre Richard), an unassuming concert violinist, the piece of cheese. Milan, Louis observes correctly, will build his own cage in the course of snatching the bait. Until the very end, Perrin remains unaware that he is at the focal point of Milan’s eavesdropping cameras—he’s supposed to be a master operator—and this becomes, on the surface anyway, the basis for the main thrust of Robert’s humor.