Le Grand restaurant (1966)
aka: The Big Restaurant
A film directed by Jacques Besnard

Genre: Comedy / Thriller

Film Review

Le Grand restaurant photo
Louis de Funès was approaching the height of his popularity when he starred in Le Grand restaurant, a lively entry in the comédie policière line that was skilfully tailored to his distinctive brand of comedy. Buoyed up by the immense success of the Gendarme and Fantômas films, to say nothing of his first pairing with Bourvil in Le Corniaud (1965), de Funès was now the most popular comic actor in France, and his biggest successes were still yet to come. Unusually, Le Grand restaurant was directed not by an established helmer but by the debutant Jacques Besnard, his first feature in a fairly undistinguished career that included such mediocre comedies as Le Fou du labo IV (1967) and La Situation est grave... mais pas désespérée (1976). Despite Besnard's inexperience, the film achieves the appropriate balance of laughs and thrills and was another massive hit for its lead actor, drawing an audience of just under four million in France.

It doesn't take much perspicacity to see that the film was modelled on the parody thrillers that director Georges Lautner and others were successfully turning out around this time - films such as Les Barbouzes (1964) and Ne nous fâchons pas (1966). The presence of Lautner regulars Bernard Blier and Robert Dalban in their accustomed roles says as much, but the main give-away is the succession of over-the-top action stunts including a spectacular car chase sequence in the alps. Before the thriller part of the film gets going, however, the film starts out as a more conventional de Funès vehicle, with an irrepressible Fufu running his chic Parisian restaurant like a cross-between Basil Fawlty and any fascist dictator you care to mention. At one point, de Funès is scarily transformed into Hitler by a clever lighting effect as he reels off the recipe for a potato soufflé to a German customer. John Cleese may well have 'borrowed' this scene for the most famous episode in his hotel-based sitcom.

The film's funniest set-piece also comes in the first half of the film, when a typically tyrannical de Funès attempts to instil some discipline into his disorganised staff, first by getting them to carry plates through an opening and closing stage door (with predictably messy results), then by choreographing a neat little dance number. What starts out as a genteel little ballet ends in a frenzied Cossack dance and a roomful of broken plates. De Funès definitely had a hand in writing the script, but it also seems likely that he played a substantial part in directing the film. No subsequent film that Besnard directed is anywhere near as funny, polished or inspired as this one.

Included in the cast are some notable comedy performers - Noël Roquevert, Pierre Tornade - as well as members of de Funès' regular troupe - Guy Grosso, Michel Modo and Maurice Risch. De Funès' son Olivier also appears (as he did in several of his dad's films) as a put-upon sous-chef - he is the one who looks like an embarrassed child reluctantly dragged to a family do. Latin glamour girl Maria-Rosa Rodriguez puts in a feisty appearance (inexplicably transforming herself into Mireille Darc at one point) - she had previously showed up in another de Funès film, Pouic-Pouic (1963). Too stalwarts of Italian cinema, Folco Lulli  and Venantino Venantini, lend further muscle to an impressive cast, although it remains Louis de Funès' film from start to finish, and not even Bernard Blier manages to steal the focus for more than a few seconds. Le Grand restaurant is an amiable romp with plenty of good laughs (mostly in the first half) but it pales in comparison with de Funès' next film, La Grande vadrouille (1966), a burlesque tour de force that would make box office history and set its star up as an unassailable comedy icon.
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Film Credits

Directed by Jacques Besnard
Starring: Louis de Funès, Bernard Blier, Maria-Rosa Rodriguez, Venantino Venantini, Juan Ramírez
[Read more...]

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