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Lino Ventura, Bernard Blier, and Francis Blanche star in this quirky French comedy. To keep a promise to a dying friend, ex-criminal Fernand (Ventura) must return to the life he left behind as he takes over his friend’s empire.
For more about Monsieur Gangster and the Monsieur Gangster Blu-ray release, see Monsieur Gangster Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on March 5, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Lino Ventura, Bernard Blier, Francis Blanche
Director: Georges Lautner
» See full cast & crew
Monsieur Gangster Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, March 5, 2013
Lino Ventura was an Italian born actor who became a major French movie star. Rather bulky and not especially photogenic (he has an odd resemblance to American comedian Danny Thomas), Ventura was one of those "accidental" actors who kind of stumbled into films through no fault of his own (so to speak) and found a rather lucrative career just sitting there waiting for him. Due to his hardboiled appearance and hefty physique, Ventura often found himself playing gangsters, and in a number of films he was co-starred with Jean Gabin, one of the most iconic French actors of all time and a man who became a personal friend to Ventura. Someone at Olive Films might be a Ventura fan of sorts, for the label has brought out a number of Ventura offerings on Blu-ray over the past several months, titles like Greed in the Sun, Taxi for Tobruk and most recently The Great Spy Chase. (There's also an excellent Criterion release of another Ventura film, Army of Shadows, available on Blu-ray.) All of these films help to show Ventura's considerable range, with Monsieur Gangster probably falling closer to The Great Spy Chase in general terms even if it doesn't share the same kind of buffoonish qualities or cartoon like ambience. This similarity might be due to the fact that Monsieur Gangster, which predated The Great Spy Chase by one year, features quite a few of the same cast and crew, notably director Georges Lautner and co-writer Michel Audiard. (Audiard also provided dialogue for Greed in the Sun, A Taxi for Tobruk and The Great Spy Chase, proving a versatility similar to Ventura's.) While there are the same farcical elements in Monsieur Gangster as there are in The Great Spy Chase, this earlier film is much more of a "fish out of water" offering which posits Ventura as a onetime hood who has gone straight (more or less), only to find himself sucked back into a life of crime due (much like Ventura's film career) to no fault of his own.
We first meet Fernand Naudin (Lino Ventura) at a job site where he manages some heavy equipment operators. We get a little hint of the often wry humor in this piece when he talks to one of his subordinates about a piece of equipment which has just broken down. The subordinate asks him just what piece has broken down, to which Fernand replies, "The breakdown truck". We're off and running in world where Murphy's Law runs rampant and poor Fernand is caught in an ever increasing maelstrom of unexpected situations.
Fernand is whisked away to the death bed of an old "associate" of his, the somewhat humorously named The Mexican (Jacques Dumesnil), who has become a mob boss. The Mexican is distraught over any number of issues, not necessarily so much about his mortality as what will be left in the wake of his demise. The Mexican is most concerned about his daughter Patricia, whom he fears will become a woman of loose morals since she already appears to be a girl who "just wants to have fun" (to kind of quote a certain pop singer). The Mexican insists that Fernand become Patricia's guardian, something that shocks Fernand. Fernand is even more shocked when he discovers that The Mexican also wants Fernand to take over the "family business".
The rest of Monsieur Gangster plays out as a fairly amiable comedy of manners where Fernand has to deal with the jealous underlings of The Mexican who resent this interloper taking what they perceive to be their rightful place, as well as Fernand's attempts to come to terms with his own version of the generation gap with his new charge Patricia (Sabine Senjin). In one of the film's smarter decisions, Patricia is not a potential romantic partner for Fernand (though things seem to be headed in that direction, at least initially), and in fact some of the film's more pointed humor comes from Fernand having to deal with Patricia's unctuously arty boyfriend Antoine (Claude Rich). There are two simultaneously unfolding tracks of humor here, therefore, one dealing with Fernand and his fellow crooks, and another where "Uncle" Fernand attempts to deal with Patricia and everything being in charge of a teenager entails.
There's a peculiar quality to Monsieur Gangster that may prevent it from being fully appreciated by an American audience. I once spoke French rather fluently, and still have a probably better than average understanding of colloquial conversational French, and there's a rhythm and grittiness to Michel Audiard's dialogue that isn't fully conveyed in the English translations. Some of the pointed quality comes through (there's a great line where Antoine tells Fernand to use his bourgeoisie opinions about modern art for suppositories), but this is definitely a film where something, perhaps something quite important, is "lost in translation".
As I mentioned in the The Great Spy Chase Blu-ray review, it's at least a little odd that a dialogue writer of such piquancy was utilized in a film which really didn't need much dialogue to begin with. Quite the opposite is true with regard to Monsieur Gangster. This is a film filled to the brim with bristling little interchanges, and if everything doesn't make to the subtitles effectively, there's still enough snark and gentle poking and prodding to make Audiard's effervescent vinegar qualities quite apparent.
Monsieur Gangster is a film that met with critical apathy at the time of its initial release, but which gained a certain cachet in the decades since due to repeated broadcasts and, ultimately, home video releases. Audiard and Lautner are obviously film lovers themselves, and it took viewers a while to catch on to at least a couple of homages to other films sprinkled into the mix. There's a justly renowned scene with the thugs sitting around a table which owes a tip of the hat (and/or glass) to Key Largo, and late in the film, some may think they've wandered into a Jacques Tati film and that M. Hulot has wandered into the frame. That's actually a tip of the eyeglass to another Lautner creation from his Monocle films.
Monsieur Gangster Blu-ray, Video Quality
Monsieur Gangster is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.66:1. While the elements here are in generally good safe, there are several outright strange anomalies scattered throughout this presentation which boil down to what almost looks like tinting, believe it or not. For just a second here or a second there, the registration changes markedly, sometimes with a bluish tint (look at the last screenshot, which is admittedly awash in optical artifacts since it's part of the credits sequence, but which is markedly darker than just the frame before this one), at other times with an almost sepia tone. If you don't mind this admittedly minor and transitory anomalies, the rest of this high definition presentation looks quite good. Contrast, aside from the issues noted above, is consistent and quite strong, and fine detail is at very pleasing levels, especially in the close-ups.
Monsieur Gangster Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Monsieur Gangster features a nice sounding lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track in the original French. The film is pretty dialogue heavy and this mono track ably supports the repartee between the characters. There are also a glut of sound effects as the various gangsters keep trying to assassinate Fernand, and some of these are quite whimsical (guns with silencers sound oddly rather like the default "beep" that iPhones use to announce an incoming email). The track offers typically boxy sounding fidelity which is most noticeable in the music cues.
Monsieur Gangster Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Monsieur Gangster Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Monsieur Gangster isn't as manic as The Great Spy Chase, but it features somewhat the same tone, with silly violence brushing up against domestic dysfunction. The film is probably going to be best appreciated by those with at least a smattering of French, as those people can more readily appreciated the whiplash quality of a lot of Michel Audiard's dialogue. There are a number of standout sequences, though, even for those who don't speak a lick of French, and there's a good reason this film's reputation has only grown since its unheralded original release. This Blu-ray has some occasional though ultimately minor issues with video quality, but the audio is about what you'd expect for a film of this vintage. Recommended.
Monsieur Gangster Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Two More Titles Coming Up From Olive Films in February - December 28, 2012
Olive Films have added up two more titles to their February slate. Both are classic French crime comedies from Gaumont's catalog directed by Georges Lautner: Les tontons flingueurs a.k.a Monsieur Gangster (1963) and Les Barbouzes a.k.a The Great Spy Chase (1964). ...
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