English Title: The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe
Original Title: Le grand blond avec une chaussure noire
Language: French, English
Genre: Comedy, Mystery
Director: Yves Robert
Writers: Yves Robert, Francis Veber
Music: Vladimir Cosma
Cinematography: René Mathelin
Editor: Ghislaine Desjonquères
Paul Le Person
Successfully spawning a sequel and a Hollywood remake, Tom Hanks’ starrer THE MAN WITH ONE RED SHOE (1985), and augured from its ingenious legerdemain in the opening credits, Yves Robert’s THE TALL BLOND MAN WITH ONE BLACK SHOE is a beguiling divertissement that mocks the espionage profession and retains the essential Gallic funny bone.
Our protagonist is the titular tall (?, he looks very average), blond François Perrin (Richard), a French violinist, who is randomly chosen as a bait because he wears one black shoe and one brown shoe (owing to a practical joke) when he arrives in Orly airport from Munich, a whim of Perrache (Le Person), the assistant of Louis Toulouse (Rochefort), the chief of France’s Counter-Espionage department, who clandestinely retaliates his treacherous second-in-command Bernard Milan (Blier) by deliberately letting the latter on that François is a top spy who has kompromat to hazard his position.
Milan rises to the bait immediately, with his whole team working in succession to stake François out, break into his apartment (and playing with a set of matryoshka dolls) and keep tabs on his visitors and telephone calls, trying to fish out what he knows, obviously, all to no avail. Only after a recoiling honey trap set by agent Christine (Marc), Milan finally loses his patience and demands François to be roundly dispatched, but unbeknown to him, Perrache assigns two agents to safeguard François, so the ensuing internecine shoot-out takes a heavy toll on both sides, and completely behind François’s back.
Yes, the off-piste leitmotif is that, during the whole shebang, François is insouciantly oblivious about the happenings, resumes his daily routines – a tryst with Paulette (Castel), the harpist in the same orchestra and the wife of his best friend Maurice (Carmet), a percussionist – and plays in an evening concert (a cock-up to the dismay of the conductor, played by Robert himself), then a wee-hour consummation with the mysterious, sultry Christine, who even more mysteriously, falls head over feet for him and defects her superior afterward, and in the jolly ending, the pair flies to Rio together, in different airliner compartments though, only leaving Maurice, beset by his numerous encounters with the goings-on and its unsavory aftermath, firmly believes that he is mentally unstable and needs heavy medication.
Comédien Pierre Richard relaxedly inhabits François with a mix-bag of clownish, aw-shucks, yet louche facades (although gobbing gums in the airport doesn’t leave a great first impression), playing off against the agents’ collective callousness and dead seriousness, he is endowed with a Benigni-esque comical facility to dampen the plot’s innate implausibility, so is Jean Carmet, a dutiful foil that nails the deadpan impression after his character becomes increasingly enmeshed with and befogged by contradictory situations, so much so that questioning his own sanity seems to the only possible way to justify it. All in all, the film is a thoroughly pleasurable vintage comedy that has enough sophistication and élan to spare for a second go-round.