Louis de Funès was approaching the height of his popularity when
he starred in Le Grand restaurant
a lively entry in the comédie
line that was skilfully tailored to his
distinctive brand of comedy. Buoyed up by the immense success of
films, to say nothing of his first pairing with Bourvil in Le
(1965), de Funès was now the most popular
comic actor in France, and his biggest successes were still yet to
come. Unusually, Le Grand
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
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
(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
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
burlesque tour de force that would make box office history and set its
star up as an unassailable comedy icon.
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