Sunday, November 18, 2018

Film Recommendation: La Grande Vadrouille (1966)

La Grande Vadrouille (1966) opens with a Royal Air Force bomber being intercepted by the Luftwaffe over German-occupied France.  The air battle ends with the bomber being shot down and three crew members parachuting out over Paris.  Once on the ground, the airmen receive assistance from a variety of French citizens to escape to the free zone.  The film is, in a way, an odd combination of  To Be or Not to Be (1942) and The Great Escape (1963).

Big laughs are earned early on with a rendezvous at a Turkish bath and a cartoonish scheme to steal clothes for the airmen.  In the latter scene, an airman disguised as a streetwalker lures unsuspecting men to an open manhole, inside of which his accomplices are eagerly waiting to strip off the men's clothing.

Louis de Funès is featured in the film as an opera conductor who assists the airmen.

The comic actor's usual bad temper is on display in the film.

Marie Dubois lends a pretty face to the proceedings.  As many French ingénues, the actress has an ethereal beauty.

La Grande Vadrouille
was understandably popular in France.  The film is a valentine to the indomitable spirit of the French people, who remained brave and defiant throughout the German occupation.  Every French man and woman that the film's airmen encounter are willing to risk their lives to get the men to safety.  They express their absolute gratitude to the Brits, who are risking their own lives to liberate France.

Terry-Thomas, one of England's greatest comic actors, plays a surprisingly straight role in the film.  The comedy is left to de Funès and André Bourvil, who had developed a special rapport working together the previous year in Le Corniaud.

The duo go through many dangerous situations in the World War II comedy.


Gérard Oury, the director of Le Corniaud and  La Grande Vadrouille, had prepared a third project for Funès and Bourvil, but Bourvil was unable to work due to the onset of bone marrow cancer.  His role was recast with Yves Montand.

Bourvil died at the age of 53 on September 23, 1970.

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