Le Magnifique (1973)

Country: France
Director: Philippe De Broca
Starring: Jean Paul Belmondo, Jacqueline Bisset, Vittorio Caprioli
Music: Claude Bolling

Le Magnifique starts with an inspired Bond rip-off sequence, where a secret agent in a telephone booth is airlifted by helicopter and dropped into the ocean. But the ill-fated agents trouble doesn’t end there. Trapped in the booth, he drifts down to the sea bed, where a caged shark awaits to be released into the booth. The violent death of this agent forces the Head of the Secret Service to assign the best secret agent they have; Bob St. Clare (Jean-Paul Belmondo). Bob St. Clare is suave, self confident and lethal, and quickly finds himself in Acapulco and in the arms of the beautiful Tatiana (Bisset). But their interlude is interrupted when they are attacked on the beach by an army of scuba divers, armed with machine guns.

At this point the movie pulls the rug out from under the audience and reveals that Bob St. Clare is the fictional alter ego of reclusive novelist, François Merlin (also played by Jean-Paul Belmondo). Merlin creates a fantasy life within his novels far more exciting than his own, one in which characters from the real world drop in unannounced.

Jacqueline Bisset, looking her finest (even better than The Deep – although I do miss that wet t-shirt) plays the female lead, Merlin’s neighbour Christine (a sociologist) in the real world, and Tatiana, a beautiful, scantily clad operative in the imaginary one. But in this movie most of the sexual situations are based on misunderstandings, rather than conquest for power. And wait till the end, which I won’t reveal – it’ll will show you just how confused the characters are sexually (in a humorous way, of course!)

Le Magnifique is not particularly psychedelic like some of the late 60’s spy films, but it has some surreal moments, with events from the real world intruding on the literary one. Notable sequences include the cleaning lady vacuuming a path through the centre of a gun battle on the beach, and the arrival of the François’ son during a torture sequence in a South American pyramid.

Vittorio Caprioli plays the dual role of Merlin’s editor, who has less than honourable intentions towards Christine (Bisset), and he also plays the black leather clad Colonel Karpof the Head of the Albanian Secret Service. As this is a comedy there is no real menace to the villain and the henchmen all drop like tenpins. It really is the type of movie where one shot can kill ten bad guys!

Ultimately, Le Magnifique is one of the genres better spoofs. But be warned, although this movie is a comedy, it is extremely violent, in a comedic way, similar to various Monty Python sketches (you know the ones). So if you don’t mind your laughs covered in blood and brains, this movie is highly recommended.

Trivia: Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jacqueline Bissett also appeared in the James Bond spoof Casino Royale. The old one…not the new Daniel Craig one.

So if anyone is trying to track down a copy a Le Magnifique, you have two choices.
• From amazon.com (America) you can get a version with subtitles (French Dialogue)
• But if you go to amazon.fr (France), their version has a strangely over the top dubbed version. (But no choice of subtitles)

This review is based on the Image Entertainment USA DVD

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