Le Corniaud (1965)

aka: The Sucker
Comedy / Thriller / Adventure


Le Corniaud photo
Antoine Maréchal is about to set off for a holiday in Italy when his 2CV is smashed to pieces by a Rolls-Royce, driven by the wealthy business man Léopold Saroyan. By way of compensation, Saroyan offers Maréchal an expenses-paid trip to Naples so that he can collect his luxury white Cadillac and drive it back to Bordeaux. Unable to believe his good fortune, Maréchal sets off for Italy, for what he believes will be the holiday of a lifetime. Little does he know that Saroyan is a notorious gangster and that the Cadillac is stuffed with illegal drugs and stolen jewellery. Saroyan is gambling that Marcéhal's air of innocence will allow him to drive the car through customs without arousing suspicion. To make sure that nothing goes awry, Saroyan closely trails Marcéhal in his green Jaguar - unaware that a rival gangster, le Bègue, is also intent on recovering the hidden booty...
© filmsdefrance.com 2012

Film Review

Possibly the biggest influence on cinema in France of the 1960s (as in most other western countries at the time) was the emergence of television as a competitive threat. To try and stem the gradual decline in cinema audiences, film producers had to fight back in the only way they knew how - by spending more money.
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Le Corniaud was one of the first in a series of enormously successful big budget comedy extravaganzas to be made in France. Although it now appears modest in comparison with what was to follow, this film was in a different league to previous French film comedies - which tended to be studio-bound, low budget and almost exclusively targeted at a home market.

The success of Le Corniaud came as a total surprise to its production team. With an audience of 9 million spectators in France alone, it became the most popular film in French cinema history at that time - and by a wide margin. This monumental success catapulted a relatively unknown comic actor, Louis de Funès to the zenith of stardom and gave a much-needed boost to the career of its director, Gérard Oury. French cinema - of the popular variety - would never be the same again.

Although the outcome could hardly have been bettered, the film had an auspicious start and gave its producer (Robert Dorfmann) a few sleepless nights. Gérard Oury, a former actor, had yet to make his mark as a director, and none of his previous films had been a particularly great success. Likewise, De Funès was an unknown quantity and it was uncertain whether he could work well with the film's other star, the established popular comic performer, Bourvil. Should a film with such a large budget (3 and half million francs) be gambled in this way?

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If Robert Dorfmann had a few niggling doubts when the contracts were signed, he must certainly have had second thoughts when production got underway. Because of Bourvil's insistence to spend the month of August 1964 on holiday with his family, filming in Italy was postponed until September - when the weather proved to be far from ideal. Then, at the start of filming, the green Jaguar which De Funès was to drive in the film was smashed up in a road accident when the assistant director's son “borrowed” the car one evening. This meant that De Funès' scenes could not be filmed until two weeks later, when a replacement car had been obtained and fitted up for the film. Consequently, when the first set of rushes of the film were presented to the cast and production team, there was a noticeable imbalance between the contributions from the film's two stars. To placate an understandably upset De Funès, Oury was compelled to write a new scene especially for the actor - the famous shower scene. Further production delays - caused mainly by bad weather in Italy - saw the film's budget increase by almost two million francs.

Despite an ominous beginning, De Funès and Bourvil's working relationship improved and the two actors developed a close friendship - something which the ever-punctilious De Funès generally found hard to achieve with his co-stars. Unlike many subsequent pairings of De Funès with other prominent actors and comedians, the De Funès-Bourvil partnership works perfectly because the two actors complement each other so well - Bourvil the easy-going, good natured innocent, De Funès the temperamental, near-paranoid perfectionist. Part of the reason for the success of Le Corniaud, why it is still such a pleasure to watch, is down to the unique synergy of its two lead actors. In their own individual way, both are masters of comedy - yet neither impinges on the other's ground. It is the perfect double act.

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Le Corniaud builds on the success of a series of previous gangster thriller parodies, not least of which was Georges' Lautner's 1963 hit, Les Tontons Flingueurs. The film not only satisfies the French nation's appetite for film policier (the most popular genre of the 1950s) but also maintains a tradition of high calibre burlesque comedy. With its hapless gun-totting villains, scantily dressed female heroines and obvious morally impeccable hero, Le Corniaud is really no more than an unashamed send-up of the American gangster film - but it is done with such charm and apparent spontaneity that it appears fresh and original.

What perhaps sets Le Corniaud apart from similar thriller parodies is the near-surreal comedy of Louis de Funès. Despite his own personal doubts, De Funès emerges as the star of the film, just out-shining Bourvil by virtue of the fact that his brand of comedy is so new and unexpected. The film features some of De Funès finest comic turns - which include the scene where he simultaneously dances and repairs the damaged Cadillac to music from Rossini's La Danza, and, of course, the legendary shower scene. By far the film's funniest moment is the car crash at the start of the film, in which De Funès smashes his car into Bourvil's 2CV. Magnificently downplayed, the scene sees a speechless Bourvil clutching his steering wheel whilst the rest of his vehicle is scattered around him. De Funès then delivers that immortal line: "Qu'est-ce qui y a?"

The plot of Le Corniaud was inspired by the real-life case of a French television presenter, Jacques Angelvin, who was arrested in America whilst in possession of a Cadillac on which was concealed fifty kilograms of pure heroine. Angelvin protested his innocence, claiming to have been duped - in a similar way to the hero of Le Corniaud. Bizarrely, Angelvin had previously appeared alongside Bourvil in a film entitled Le Chanteur de Mexico (1956).

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It was through the intervention of Louis de Funès that two actors whom he had just worked with on Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez made a brief appearance - Michel Modo and Guy Grosso - this time in the uniforms of two customs officials. The two actors would work many times with De Funès in the remainder of his career, with Michel Modo becoming a close friend and confidante of the comic star.

One scene which was cut from Le Corniaud features Louis de Funès being interviewed by Italian television (the actor's responses being hilariously unintelligible), before shamelessly grovelling before an aloof film star - Michèle Morgan (who happened to be Gérard Oury's partner at the time).

The success of Le Corniaud almost necessitated a sequel. Oury resisted the pressure to make a Corniaud II and instead opted for a wartime comedy, La Grand vadrouille. That film would re-unite Bourvil and Louis de Funès in what was destined to be the most popular film in French cinema history, achieving more than double the audience of Le Corniaud. But that, as they say, is another story.
The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.


The director Gérard Oury also worked with the actor Louis de Funès on the films La Grande vadrouille (1966), La Folie des grandeurs (1971) and Les Aventures de Rabbi Jacob (1973).

Film Credits

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