Le Gorille vous salue bien (1958)
aka: The Gorilla Greets You
A film directed by Bernard Borderie

Genre: Action / Crime / Thriller

Film Review

Le Gorille vous salue bien photo
The popularity of Jacques Becker's slick homage to American film noir Touchez pas au grisbi (1954) and a sustained love affair in France for all things American after the Liberation is what led to a sudden blitz of hardboiled série noir-style thrillers in the mid-to-late 1950s - the first salvo of what was to become the most successful genre in French cinema, the film policier or crime-thriller. The first adaptation of the popular Gorille novels by Antoine-Louis Dominique, Le Gorille vous salue bien is a middle-of-the-road entry in this series of gratuitous pastiches of American film noir. Its particular significance is that it made its lead actor Lino Ventura a national star and established him in the role for which is now best remembered, that of the archetypal heavy, as cool as a cucumber but as deadly with his fist as he is with his sardonic wit.

Appropriately, it was in Becker's genre-defining Grisbi that Ventura, a former professional wrestler, made his acting debut. He subsequently appeared in several other lesser noir pastiches, invariably as the taciturn tough guy, before stardom came his way. No other actor, with the possible exception of Alain Delon, is as closely associated with the policier genre in France. Whether he is playing the hardened gangster or resolute cop, Ventura inhabits Le Milieu like no other actor, exuding an aura of underworld machismo that compels his audience to believe he is dangerous and means business, and yet there is also has an old-fashioned charm that means that we are always on his side. In Le Gorille vous salue bien, Ventura's name is omitted from the opening credits - he is credited simply as 'The Gorilla'. It is a soubriquet which fits the actor perfectly.

The film itself is a bit of a mixed bag. The plot is a typically convoluted affair involving rival French security agencies, treacherous diplomats and pretty inept hoodlums (including a sinister Jean-Pierre Mocky doing unspeakable things with a blow torch) - the plot twists and turns can hardly fail to give you a migraine if you try to follow them too closely. (If you manage to wend your way through the labyrinthine passages of this film without the aid of a large ball of string, Howard Hawks' The Big Sleep (1946) will be as transparent as glass.)   The film teeters on the brink of parody but seems afraid to commit itself one way or the other; it cannot quite reconcile its hard-edged grittiness (which borders on sadism) with the comical absurdity of some of its plot elements. Ventura's character is a kind of proto-Incredible Hulk who (without the aid of green body make-up) can turn over cars with the merest flick of a wrist and effortlessly hurl grown men across a room, somehow magically transforming them into inanimate plastic dummies before they hit the ground (désolé, but methinks the editing could have been a little better...).

The familiar noir motifs are all present and correct but these are bolted onto the film's well-worn chassis without much inspiration from either the director or his cinematographer, who both look as if they are slavishly following instructions from a cookery book. As was often the case in the original American films noirs, the film's true genius lies not in its hackneyed script or its dubious technical artistry but in the authenticity and colour that the actors bring to it. The one area where Le Gorille vous salue bien does excel is its cast. With actors of the calibre of Charles Vanel, René Lefèvre and Pierre Dux complementing the magnificent Ventura, the film has no great difficulty holding the audience's attention, even if trying to unravel the plot feels a little like subjecting yourself to brain surgery without an anaesthetic.

The film's director, Bernard Borderie, was one of the first French filmmakers to popularise the American-style spy thriller early in the 1950s, with the first (and best) entries in the Lemmy Caution series: La Môme vert-de-gris (1953) and Les Femmes s'en balancent (1954). He later directed the next film in the Gorille series, La Valse du gorille (1959), with Roger Hanin taking over the role in which Ventura had excelled (but was understandably reluctant to get type-cast), before scoring some palpable hits in the swashbuckling genre - notably Le Chevalier de Pardaillan (1962). Borderie's biggest success was the legendary (and/or notorious) Angélique series of the 1960s, an odd concoction of adventure, court intrigue and coy eroticism (lightened by a few touches of harmless sadomasochism) which made a star of Michèle Mercier (ruining her career) and traumatised a whole generation of French adolescents. One way or another, Bernard Borderie has a lot to answer for.
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Géo Paquet, nicknamed The Gorilla, is the French secrets services' number one agent...
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Film Credits

Directed by Bernard Borderie
Starring: Lino Ventura, Charles Vanel, Pierre Dux, Bella Darvi, René Lefèvre, Robert Manuel, André Valmy, Henri Crémieux, Jean-Roger Caussimon, Jean-Max
[Read more...]

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