Synopsis: In this comedy-tinged crime drama, detective San Antonio and his sidekick Beru are hot on the trail of some morphine thieves. The crooks raid another home and mistakenly grab some bottles that contain a virus, San Antonio and Beru must find them before the virus is unleashed on the public.
eyelights: San-Antonio. the setting.
eyesores: the corny gags revolving around Béru.
“Con, peut-être, mais pas sourd.”
1968’s ‘Béru et ces dames’ is the second of four films based on the adventures of Commissioner San-Antonio and Inspector Bérurier, by Frédéric Dard. Like its predecessor, ‘Sale temps pour les mouches‘, it stars Gérard Barray as San-Antonio and Jean Richard as Bérurier and it is directed by Guy Lefranc.
This time our dynamic duo find themselves trying to unravel a criminal plot to steal morphine – after Bérurier visits an acquaintance only to find him murdered and then being implicated in the death for a short while. Calling on San-Antonio for help, they investigate the murder and start connecting the dots.
It turns out that the victim paid rent to the Inspector for space at his family homestead. Little did Bérurier know, however, that a bordello was being run from there. While he and San-Antonio are questioning the madam and her girls, she is shot in the back, leaving many questions unanswered.
But digging further leads them to a pharmaceutical company that is awaiting an important shipment of morphine. As they’re questioning their head of this company, an attempt is made to steal the shipment. Amusingly enough, the thieves get the wrong shipment: they steal a transfer of viruses instead.
A mad dash ensues to catch the criminals before they can potentially unleash their viral arsenal on an unsuspecting French public – while the criminals themselves try to save their skins and complete the heist they were contracted for. This leads to an eventual swap which doesn’t go quite according to plan.
Heh heh… can you say convoluted?
Although it’s a bit sloppy, ‘Béru et ces dames’ is actually a fair bit of fun. Barray and Richard are quite enjoyable in their roles and are complemented rather well by Paul Préboist, who returns to play Inspector Pinaud yet again; their energy is infectious even as they have to do preposterous things.
One of the most outrageous bits is an improbable action sequence in which San-Antonio is on the roof of a suspect’s car. The guy, suddenly made aware of San-Antonio’s presence, basically drives him around town trying to knock him off. Based on the number of locations, it appeared as though he drove everywhere.
Well, why didn’t he just shoot him through the roof, like they usually do? Or why not stop the car and beat him up? Instead, he eventually drives him to a sandpit and ejects him down. Then, while San-Antonio is winded, the guy tries to run him over. Failing miserably, he then takes out a machine gun and tries to shoot him.
Tries… and fails.
Clearly, the filmmakers were trying to put together an exciting sequence, but it falls totally flat due to a weak concept, poor staging and ineffectual editing. What’s interesting is that the book’s description suggests that the focus was much more on a mystery and not action – not that the plots sounds all that similar.
The worst scene for me, however, is when, in trying to find Helga (one of the girls from the bordello, who is likely linked to the crime), Bérurier decides to dress up as a hooker and goes looking for clues in the red light district. Ugh. It’s a clichéd gag that is just not funny. And of course he gets arrested by his colleagues. Haha.
By the third act, the picture just barrels right through and the dots are connected awkwardly: the way San-Antonio finds his way to the villain is ridiculous, just about everyone dies, a bad guy’s car blows up over a simple crash, and the morphine goes up in dust and no one seems to care. It’s total chaos.
Still, all things considered, I enjoyed ‘Béru et ces dames’; it was entertaining enough. However, the fact is that I’ve never once read a San-Antonio novel, so I have no point of reference. Would a true fan appreciate this movie? I have no idea. But anyone who likes French cop flicks just might.
Sadly, it is the last San-Antonio film by this team. The next one would be Joël Séria’s ‘San-Antonio ne pense qu’à ça’, which would be released (and quickly forgotten) nearly 15 years later. This one has not even made its way onto DVD in its native land, where it languishes in VHS hell.
But there is always 2004’s ‘San Antonio’, starring none other than Gérard Depardieu.
Let’s see if that one holds up, shall we?
Date of viewing: January 7, 2016