Synopsis: San Antonio is a suave French police inspector who pretends to turn criminal in order to infiltrate a gang lead by Eastern block scientists. Highlights include two parachuting enemies who battle each other in a free-fall as they plummet to the ground.
eyelights: the main characters. the zippy pace. its humour. its realistic action.
eyesores: its low-budget, somewhat half-baked quality. its plot gaps.
Frédéric Dard is a bit of a legend in his native country of France. The author, who began publishing novels in 1940, has written hundreds of them during his career. His most recognized and notorious creation, Commissioner San-Antonio, was featured in 175 books (which, interestingly, he also published under the pseudonym San-Antonio).
I have never read any of his works, but I’ve heard of them many times through the years since one of my closest friends was a big fan and had a large collection of them. He even got another close friend interested in reading them, so I got to hear about it a little bit in passing as they exchanged and discussed the finer points of these pulp novels.
In recent years, I stumbled upon a few rare San-Antonio gems, which I quickly snapped up for my buddy. First there was a comic book, which I didn’t get a chance to read, but which was well-received. I also found a few DVDs of San-Antonio’s adventures; of the four movies that were made over the years, only three have been released on home video.
I got them all.
So it was with no small amount of excitement that I gave them as gifts, and looked forward to discovering them myself (naturally, I first made myself copies for future enjoyment). I knew that they were likely not to be quite up to snuff, and would only serve as a quick overview of what the San-Antonio books really were like. But that’s okay.
‘Sale temps pour les mouches’ is the first of these four films and was released in 1966. Based on the 1955 novel ‘Messieurs les Hommes’, it finds San-Antonio hunting down kidnappers who are planning to smuggle nuclear physicists out of the country for a profit. Aided by his goofy sidekick Inspector Bérurier, the Commissioner infiltrates the gang.
What follows is a series of twists and turns as the villains discover that he’s a plant, but keep him close by anyway, pretending not to know – only for San-Antonio to find out that they know and also plays it dumb. These layers of deceit and subterfuge create a level of tension that is often missing in such films; it was impossible to know what would happen.
The picture is a mixture of action and comedy that I found quite enjoyable. While it’s a French production from the ’60s, which implies budgetary and technical limitations that weren’t found in Hollywood pictures, it zipped along breathlessly and at no point stopped being entertaining – so long as one is capable of overlooking its weaknesses.
Of particular note is the crappy rear-projection scenes and over-acting that should have been dropped by that period, but still plagued many European productions until a decade later. And yet, surprisingly enough, the action sequences were brisk and staged competently enough that they seemed somewhat realistic and not at all over-the-top.
But what I liked the most were the main characters of San-Antonio and Bérurier. I have no idea if they are like their literary counterparts, but San-Antonio was tough, suave, and witty, much like a grittier, French James Bond, and Bérurier was goofy, but loyal and competent. They balanced each other well, and made for an entertaining pair.
Where the picture stumbles is in that we aren’t always sure what the plan is. The villains and the police make their next moves, but it’s not always clear what their intentions are; I frequently only understood after the fact. Was it lost in translation (there were no subtitles!)? I don’t know. But I had to just go along for the ride to enjoy it.
Then there is the ending which, while it was exciting, didn’t make much sense; it felt contrived to link together a series of action pieces, such as a mid-air parachute duel (which predates James Bond’s own by well over a decade). I think it would have been pretty easy to tighten this part of the picture so that it didn’t defy logic. Oh well.
Either way, I found ‘Sale temps pour les mouches’ to be a good time. It’s not especially distinguishable from other French action films of the era (at least the ones I’ve seen), aside for its more memorable main characters and a more competent production, but it makes me want to watch the next San-Antonio film, which was produced by the same team.
Expect a blurb on that one, ‘Béru et ces dames’ soon enough.
Date of viewing: Jan 1, 2016