Jo (1971)
aka: The Gazebo
A film directed by Jean Girault

Genre: Comedy / Thriller

Film Review

Jo photo
The French comedy giant Louis de Funès was at the height of his powers when he starred in this sidesplitting adaptation of Alec Coppel's 1959 stage play The Gazebo. The play had already enjoyed one successful screen adaptation, a 1959 American film directed by George Marshall and starring Glenn Ford and Debbie Reynolds, but the French version is far more memorable, on account of de Funès' unstintingly funny performance, ably supported by some other comedy legends, Bernard Blier and Michel Galabru. The icing on the comedy gateau is de Funès' pairing with Claude Gensac, the actress who played the star's longsuffering wife in a number of films, most famously the Gendarmes series.

Jo was directed and scripted by Jean Girault and Jacques Vilfrid, the same team that had brought us the Gendarmes films and several other Louis de Funès comedies, including Pouic-Pouic (1963), the film that had finally made de Funès a star of French cinema. The plot similarities with Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry (1955) are as apparent as they are in Coppel's original play, but what makes the film more interesting are its sly references to several familiar French films, most notably Claude Autant-Lara's L'Auberge rouge (1951). Gangster thriller parodies were all the rage at the time and Jo doesn't miss a single opportunity to send up a genre that was still hugely popular, particularly in France. The result of this cinematic snatch-and-grab raid is a romp to savour, one of the slickest and most enjoyable of Louis de Funès' comedies.

Jo is unusual in that it is a black comedy, a genre which had traditionally not been popular with French audiences. Despite this, the film performed reasonably well at the box office, attracting an audience of 2.5 million - far better than the 1.6 million achieved by de Funès' previous film, the lacklustre Sur un arbre perché (1971). Both films were massively eclipsed by the third de Funès comedy to be released in 1971 - La Folie des grandeurs, another box office smash from director Gérard Oury, which sold over 5.5 million cinema tickets.

Of the many great film comedies that Louis de Funès made, Jo is the one that is most overlooked, although it is hard to see why. The fact that the film is rarely screened on French television and only made it onto DVD in 2011 suggests it may have been inadvertently deleted from de Funès' impressive filmography (not so hard to believe given the film title consists of just two letters). For those lucky devils who have not seen it, Jo is a treat waiting to be discovered. Admittedly, it is not quite in the league of the great classics Le Corniaud (1965) and La Grande vadrouille (1966), but it is certainly more entertaining, and much funnier, than the better known Gendarme and Fantômas films. Less fettered by the exigencies of plot than in most of his other films, de Funès has more freedom to make use of his legendary talent for improvisation, the upshot being that the best gags in the film are ones that were clearly not scripted. Jo's comparative obscurity prevents it from being legitimately described as a comedy classic, but hopefully its recent escape onto DVD will soon change that.
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Film Credits

Directed by Jean Girault
Starring: Louis de Funès, Claude Gensac, Michel Galabru, Bernard Blier, Guy Tréjan
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