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In the French comedy of the '70s,Montand was a salutary alternative to the more "popular" comic of Richard or Funes.The way he does " Morland ",Montand is irresistible in LE GRAND...;he has a gentlemanly and exuberant flair as a looser rogue,and this does define of the faces of Montand in the '70s.His success in LE GRAND ... is that he makes this role to define him as an actor of comedy (to define him in an aesthetic order,if not in the public's consciousness,I don't have the least idea whether LE GRAND ... has been successful or not or to what extent it has been so).
Here,Montand looks like an agile,fascinating,rangy and biting variety star.His performance is in ideal osmosis with the other actors.He is a veteran cheat that gathers a little band of Desoeuvres;his efforts to convince his two associates are deplorable,the man resorts to anything,and prevails on them using his illness and heart condition.Montand is Prinking,resists the assaults of an oldish woman,prates,while realizing his plan:to kidnap a mogul's baby and ask for a ransom. As a cheat,Montand proves to be particularly uninspired and unlucky(the movie begins with a terrorized Claude Brasseur that reminds resentfully the resilient Montand about his previous stupid ideas and failures).The 3 partners rent a baby in order to substitute him with the one they plan to kidnap.The kidnapping goes well,if one may say so,and the crestfallen partners must take care of a noisy and disagreeable baby.The movie's main idea reminds of an O. Henry story,that I first met as a comic strip,then as a text:the one with two rascals that kidnap a boy,then pay his father to take the kid back.
Some fine things in this movie:in the beginning,Montand,with a malicious,felonious and diabolical air,following his past and future victim,the associate of his ingenious plans:Claude Brasseur.Montand,feigning aggravations of his disease,to keep his band of kidnappers together.Montand's intelligence,sense of the show, perspicacity are those who make him credible in comedies,somehow against his persona as seen in so many Gavras,Corneau,Clouzot,Delvaux movies. Montand's comic roles are computed,by a man who has the stage's routine:a stager's compositions.(Montand has not that comic content that Brando, Newman,Mastroianni,Belmondo display when doing comedies;instead,he makes the most of his scenic knowledge,making out theatric roles.)His performance in LE GRAND ... is accompanied with laughters.His procedure was effectual:I hailed with laughters his best scenes in LE GRAND....His gags are pleasing,and his highly theatrical, unsubtle, mechanical, clownish comic manages to amuse.This comic is not so much stylized,as it is set up.When a glacial gentleman with an wolfish air makes comedy,the result is a bit strange.On the other hand,Montand was Gabin's successor,and a role like that from LA MENACE is a purely Gabinian one,and many of his defining roles were of a decidedly Gabinian substance.(On another level,Marais was a better comic than Gabin,and Belmondo was the best French comic ever.Speaking of Gabin,he is another case of comic without content,in the sense that he does not have a comic content of his own to express,but follows the character,while Belmondo has a comic texture to express.)Montand's comic is quite mechanical because of his intellectuality.
Agostina Belli is fine as a young temptress,and Adolfo Celi makes a sardonic mogul.In a supporting part,Valentina Cortese is picturesque.
Constantin Popescu,in CUPLURI CELEBRE ..., remarked Montand's career in the '70s French comedy (as one of the several,as one of the in fact many genres that he practiced in that era),and noticed LE GRAND ... as one of the best three Montand comedies of the decade!
The first Montand movies I remember seeing were UN SOIR,UN TRAIN and I COMME ICAR (both in '90;I COMME ICAR is his only show I saw in a movie theater),then LE SALAIRE ...,then LA FOLIE DES ....LA MENACE impressed me much.I think that maybe I saw UN SOIR ... twice,and I remember the story that the film adapted circulated in an anthology.
As such,LE GRAND ... is more of a movie for buffs than for "professional critics",as the buffs enjoy movies,with sincerity and openness,while "professional critics" are entirely occupied with their prestige and their whims.Professionalism and routine and prestige and narcissism and the stupid jargon don't go with intimacy and affectionate objectivity.I do not know one "great critic" that has the "buff quality",the "buff openness and sympathy",the buff gist,that is a higher objectivity.(Writers like Truffaut and Larcher,Cosasu and Mrs. Mihailescu,are firstly movie buffs.)I have seen user comments (about It Happened to Jane ,1959;Fréquence Meurtre ,1988;Vertigo ,1958;Rear Window ,1954;1900 ,1976;Storie Di Ordinaria Follia ,1981;Ciao Maschio ,1978;Strangers on a Train ,1951;O Thiassos ,1975;Life of Brian ,1979;Topio Stin Omichli ,1988;Outcast of the Islands ,1952;Colossus: The Forbin Project ,1970;Vidocq ,2001;A Kiss Before Dying ,1956;Open Range ,2003;Exorcist II: The Heretic ,1977;etc.,etc.) so fine,so charming,so affectionate and well-knit that a professional critic would never write.In a professional critic's mind,men go to see westerns because they're out for "myths";not at all.Men are out for adventure.And so on. For the connoisseurs,some '70s French comedies will always mean what several XVIIIth. century French comedies are to a few admirers.It is so easy to disparage them-and also so inappropriate,churlish and inept.
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