When he is locked out of his home by his sister and her husband, a humble civil servant
Léon Dutilleul discovers he has a peculiar talent: he can walk through walls.
He explains to his artist friend Jean-Paul that his new skill will not alter his lifestyle
and he will only use it to do good. Then he meets Susan, an English young
woman who makes a living as a cat-burglar. Whilst trying to frustrate her thefts,
Léon discovers he is in love with Susan. He realises that his only hope of
dissuading her from a life of crime is for him to become a bigger criminal than her.
Naming himself Garou-Garou and using his ability to walk into any vault he chooses, Léon
embarks on a reckless life of crime...
A fine example of French comic farce from the 1950s, Jean Boyer's Le Passe-muraille
is best known for effectively launching the film career of its star, Bourvil.
Better known as a stage comic and singer at the time, Bourvil demonstrates in this film
that he also has a formidable talent as an actor. Although he plays a comic role,
it allows him the opportunity to pull the emotional levers whilst delighting his audience
with his gentile comedy, something he manages very well. The role of Léon
is quintessentially the kind of role for which Bourvil is best known: the ordinary man
in the street, timid but very affectionate towards women. Cast opposite Bourvil
is the talented English actress Joan Greenwood. The rapport between the two actors
is perfect, comical yet quite touching.
The film moves along at quite a pace, ceaselessly entertaining. This is down partly
to the quality of the comic performances, but the excellent script by Michel Audiard plays
a major part in this. In a remarkable screen-writing career spanning nearly 30 years,
Audiard is recognised as one of the true writing talents of French cinema. This
film benefits greatly from the sharp Audiard wit and erudition.
One surprising thing about this film is the quality of the special effects. This
is an area which was in its infancy at the time this film was made. It is rare to
see a film from this period where special effects do not mar the film. Le Passe-muraille
is a fortunate instance where an ambitious film is not ruined by special effects.
The scenes where Bourvil passes through a wall are generally quite convincing yet always
Although the film was released in black and white, a colour version of the film also exists.
© James Travers
The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.
Other recommended comedy/fantasy films from France that you may want to consider are: Jean Faurez's Histoires extraordinaires
Georges Méliès's Le Mélomane
Jacques Tati's Playtime
Raoul Ruiz's Trois vies et une seule mort
Jean-Marie Poiré's Les Visiteurs