Monday, 28 November 2016


“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” – Oscar Wilde

Many English speakers abhor watching foreign language films as they detest subtitling. I on the contrary, not only watch foreign films with subtitles, but in these blessed days of DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, I watch even English language films with the subtitle feature on. This is necessary as the diction of many actors is absolutely terrible, the sound engineering is often despicable and the musical backing is hopelessly intrusive. Add to that some peculiarities of accent or idiomatic forms of English spoken sloppily and you end up with understanding half of what is being said if you don't have the aid of the subtitles. Needless to say I never buy any DVDs or Blu-Rays that don’t have English subtitles or closed captions.

For Movie Monday today, tow movies: The original French film and the Hollywood remake for the native speakers of English who “don’t do subtitles”. The original film (and in my opinion the funnier of the two) is the 1972 Yves Robert comedy “The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe” (Le grand blond avec une chaussure noire) starring Pierre Richard, Bernard Blier and Jean Rochefort. The Hollywood remake is the 1985 Stan Dragoti film “The Man with One Red Shoe” starring Tom Hanks, Lori Singer and Dabney Coleman. And yes, I had the subtitles turned on for both films…

The plot of both films is almost identical except for some sociopolitical, cultural and ethno-geographic adaptations in the US version (obviously!) – I give you here the US film’s plot as you are probably more likely to get your hands on this one to watch: Cooper (Dabney Coleman), the deputy director of the CIA, wants to be the director. So, he tries to make it appear that the director (Charles Durning) is corrupt so that he will resign or be removed. The director appears before a committee and asks for some time to prepare his defense. The director goes home and asks his man Brown (Ed Herrmann) to join him. He then shows Brown that Cooper is bugging him.

He then decides to turn the tables on Cooper by feeding him false information. The information being that there’s supposedly a man arriving at the airport, who might be able to clear him of the charges against him. The Director tells Brown to just pick anyone who is arriving at the airport thus making Cooper believe that he is the man who can help the director. Brown picks violinist Richard (Tom Hanks) because he is wearing mismatched shoes, one of them being a red sneaker. So Cooper sets up surveillance on Richard and sends his femme fatale, Maddy (Lori Singer) to come on to him and find out what he knows. Add a subplot of a fellow musician (Jim Belushi) who thinks his wife (Carrie Fisher) is having an affair with Richard, and the stage is set for a send-up of spy movies.

The original French film is extremely funny but also sophisticated, even though it often features slapstick, farcical situations. The lead actor, Pierre Richard, is fantastic as the hapless orchestral player who gets caught willy-nilly in the secret service shenanigans. The pace is relentless and one comical situation succeeds the next with the audience laughing out loud without effort. The rest of the cast (including the luscious Mireille Darc as the femme fatale) is exemplary in an ensemble acting effort. The music is unforgettable with a soundtrack written by Vladimir Cosma and performed by the Romanian Pan pipe player Gheorghe Zamfir.

Now, the Hollywood version. Yes, but… I guess the summary is if you haven't seen the original French movie and you moderate your expectations, you will enjoy the US version as a light-weight Spy vs Spy spoof. Hanks is very young but copes fairly well with playing the innocent bystander around whom the whole world collapses. Jim Belushi and Carrie Fisher carry on quite well (although they do ham it up a bit) as the couple with marital problems and the remainder of the cast are adequate. A nice enough, amusing movie to watch in the background on a lazy Sunday afternoon. You will chuckle here and there…

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