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The story of Father Charles, who hides away because he is laughed at due to his similarity to "that priest in the movies", is a reference to the series of films being made at that time in which Fernandel played Don Camillo. See more »
THE SHEEP HAS FIVE LEGS (Henri Verneuil, 1954) ***
French comic Fernandel occupies basically the same niche as Jerry Lewis and Norman Wisdom do in American and British cinema respectively: his immense popularity is as much a mystery to this viewer as his particular brand of fooling prone to excessive mugging and with pathos never too far away is resistible. To be fair to him, he tried his hand more regularly at serious fare, finding a congenial rapport with such luminaries as Marcel Pagnol, Julien Duvivier (who also started the star off on the series revolving around his signature role of Don Camillo which even gets a delightful lampoon here, but more on this later) and the director of this film.
A favourite premise with star comedians is their showing off in multiple roles: in fact, Fernandel here plays a family patriarch and his five offsprings; frankly, I was surprised he did not include a female impersonation among the lot but the characters are, in any case, sufficiently differentiated between them. Typically, some get more attention than others: however, this eventually pays off here when one of them himself becomes the father of sextuplets (to go along with the four he already had!).
The narrative follows a necessarily episodic structure, which invariably yields hits and misses throughout; still, the highlights are pretty memorable: the bucolic old man's noisy disapproval of a highbrow play being staged inside an amphitheatre; the ne'er-do-well family man's tenure with creepy funeral director Louis De Funes (who would grow to similar stardom by the next decade) on the other hand, his brushes with a celebrated beautician sibling are less successful...but do feature a surprising amount of nudity!; a journalist, reduced to serving as "Agony Aunt" on a magazine, is mistaken for a young woman's wealthy but middle-aged intended when he goes to visit her stuffy family actually bearing the news of the man's sudden death; a 'salty dog' engages first in routine card-play with various shifty types and then, after he loses everything (including the ship's cargo), an intense game of chance involving a fly and two pieces of sugar in an effort to retrieve his losses and make a 'killing' besides (this, too, is a fairly risqué scene showing a girl in the skimpiest of South Sea attires!); a curate has become reclusive because the locals do not take him seriously on account of him being a dead-ringer for the afore-mentioned Don Camillo!
The movie received an Oscar nomination for the heavily-credited story, following its 1955 U.S. release; incidentally, an unspecified prize did go its way at the Locarno International Film Festival. To be honest, having watched this, I am willing to cut Fernandel some slack by approaching his filmography with more of an open mind (I do own a fair amount to tide me over) if anything, I ought to give his "Don Camillo" outings a glance at long last...having missed out on them countless times on Italian TV ever since my childhood days!
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