At their best, the slapsticky comedies of Gérard Oury combine mess with delicacy, surviving their low hit-or-miss ratio by blithely ignoring it; another gag is always on the way. Classic comedy structure (Do It Right; Do It Wrong; Do It Funny) or demonstrating a compound gag before its collapse, isn’t the Oury way. Instead, routines play out all-in-one, with little care or pride in letting us see the thing happen, as a Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton would have insisted. It’s all impossible stunts, illogical continuity and sleight-of-hand editing. But in the right mood, once softened up for his brand of silliness, he can sometimes get you laughing helplessly. This one gets about halfway there. It’s your basic train robbery comic caper with David Niven’s gang planning to repeat an infamous British heist in France. Jean-Paul Belmondo & Bourvil are low-level cons trying to horn in on the job; and Eli Wallach, hilarious as an over-protective Sicilian mob guy, is there to watch over his sexed-up little sister and grab what he can. Oury really gets his action mojo in gear for the big caper, even the lame gags start to work. Rare for the genre, it’s a handsome looking thing; like a Blake Edwards’ pic of the era. And dig the ‘Swingin’ ‘Sixties’ Carnaby Street opening with a title song loaded with groovy lyrics and ‘false’ rhymes that are a gas-gas-gas.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Olive Films offers a fine DVD of the French release which runs about a reel and a half longer then the English-language version filmed at the same time. Wallach seems to be doing his own French & Sicilian while Niven, who was living in France, definitely does his own talking. He’s fluent, but speaks with the most appalling British accent. So bad, you can understand him.