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In the 18th century, Louis de Bourguignon is working with the Malichot's gang, but their ways are too 'unethical' for him. He creates his own band, acting under the name of Cartouche, making audacious robberies of the rich people, and even distributing the takings with the poor. Thus, cartouche attracts the people's sympathies, Venus's love, and hate from the Police and Malichot... Cartouche can escape all the traps they set at him - except the entrapments of love. Eventually, he will be saved by a woman, at her own cost. Written by
I had previously watched this eons ago one Sunday night on Italian TV a film that has easily come to be universally considered as France's finest offering to the swashbuckling genre and, with this in mind, it more than holds its own alongside Hollywood's best similar offerings. What gives this added texture, then, is the authentic feel for 18th century France (stunningly rendered in widescreen color cinematography by the distinguished Christian Matras, who was particularly adept at this sort of thing), a quality that is undoubtedly further enhanced by a typically wonderful Georges Delerue score; incidentally, listening to it once more, I realized that the lovely romantic theme here was very much a dry run for his celebrated, haunting work on Jean-Luc Godard's CONTEMPT (1963) which has for some time firmly insinuated itself among my all-time favorite movie scores!
Of course, the film finds star Jean-Paul Belmondo at the peak of his powers as the amiable titular rogue; however, his supporting cast headed by luscious Claudia Cardinale, an atypically villainous Marcel Dalio, as well as Jess Hahn and Jean Rochefort as the hero's rowdy copains is no less impressive. With respect to the action sequences, the swordfights aren't as plentiful as I had expected, though certainly vigorously handled all the same. As a matter of fact, another element that distinguishes it from contemporary outings in the prolific genre (even where French cinema is concerned), is that there is a good deal more emphasis here on brawling and (especially) romance with Cartouche (actually a nickname) largely neglecting devoted commoner Cardinale for the amorous attentions of an unattainable aristocratic lady until it's too late. Unusually, therefore, this comes with a downbeat ending in which the heroine sacrifices herself to save her lover from an assailant's arrow which is then followed by a beautiful and moving funeral rite.
For the record, this was the first (and best) of director De Broca and star Belmondo's many collaborations which, box-office-wise, peaked with their next one, THAT MAN FROM RIO (1964), which I also own; incidentally, I have its follow-up UP TO HIS EARS (1965) as well albeit in French without the benefit of English subtitles! I would also love to catch up with the others LE MAGNIFIQUE (1973) and L'INCORRIGIBLE (1975) which look to be quite fun from the theatrical trailers I caught some time ago in a French Belmondo Box Set. Furthermore, De Broca would try (and relatively succeed) in recapturing the spirit of CARTOUCHE many years later with a much-filmed swashbuckling property LE BOSSU (1997). By the way, the low-budget Italian production of 1954 which also goes by the name of CARTOUCHE and stars Richard Basehart apparently has nothing else in common with this one (being, for one thing, a much-inferior product). One final thing: although the film under review is also available as a Special Edition DVD in France, I opted for the cheaper, barebones R1 disc from Anchor Bay given the prohibitively expensive shipping charges and the typical unavailability of English subtitles on the included audio commentary!
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