Le Bon et les méchants (1976)

aka: The Good Guys and the Bad Guys
Comedy / Drama


Le Bon et les méchants photo
This is the story of Jacques, a young car mechanic who dreams of becoming a professional boxer, and his kind-hearted Jewish friend, Simon. In the 1930s, the two men steal a car with a powerful engine that can outrun any other road vehicle and embark on a life of crime - robbing banks and acting as latter day highwaymen. A redoubtable police inspector, Bruno, is close to bringing the two men to justice, but then World War II intervenes. Whilst Jacques and Simon end up, quite by chance, supporting the French Resistance, Bruno consciously decides that his best interests lie in collaborating with the German police. Their paths are bound to cross...
© filmsdefrance.com 2012

Film Review

Film poster
Le Bon et les méchants, Claude Lelouch's "good guy, bad guy" morality tale set at the time of the Nazi occupation of his country, is a curiously detached work, yet one which is subtly etched with irony and humanity. Given Lelouch's own Jewish background, it is remarkable that he could make such a film in the way that he does. The film's thesis is that there are no such thing as bad men or good men - to a large extent, our actions are driven by external events over which we have little control. This is an extraordinarily generous sentiment but it does expose a certain naivety and, in that respect, the film feels awkwardly simplistic.

Given the body of historical evidence, there can be no question that bad men exist and that bad men exploited the Nazi regime for their own purposes, and this is something the film tends to push to one side, giving a somewhat distorted view of reality. On the other hand, it is equally true that the majority of people who lived under the Nazi occupation were hostages to fortune, doing what they could do ensure their own survival after their government threw in their collective towel. In that respect, this film gives us a valid comment on the period, making no bones about the fact that human nature is much more complex than most film makers would have us believe.

The popularity of Lelouch's films - with the cinema-going public if not the critics - ensured that this particular New Wave director had little difficulty hiring talented actors. As in many of his films, the cast list of Le Bon et les méchants now reads like a "Who's Who" of French cinema. Jacques Dutronc and Jacques Villeret head an impressive cast which includes Brigitte Fossey, Marlène Jobert, Serge Reggiani and Bruno Cremer. This over-abundance of acting talent is admittedly somewhat gratuitous but it does help to mask some of the film's technical deficiencies. The sepia photography is attractive but doesn't really add much to the film - if anything it distances the audience from the drama and emphasises the impression that this is a sanitised view of history. Lelouch's predilection for long takes filmed with an erratically meandering camera is also slightly irritating, particularly when a cut between static shots would have been more natural.

Despite its sentimentality and cinematic excesses, Le Bon et les méchants should be considered one of Claude Lelouch's most worthy films - not because it is a masterpiece (which it isn't) but because it challenges our notions of good and evil. In so doing, it offers a more credible portrait of life under the Nazi occupation than many "more serious" films have dared.
The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.


Le Bon et les méchants was nominated for 1 César in the category of: Best Supporting Actress (Brigitte Fossey) [1977].


The director Claude Lelouch also worked with the actor Jacques Villeret on the films Robert et Robert (1978), À nous deux (1979) and Édith et Marcel (1983).

Film Credits

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