Synopsis: Generals, ministers and academics are brought together to attend the funeral of the industrialist André Laroche. The chief of police is shocked when he learns that Laroche was none other than the famous thief Arsène Lupin. François de Vierne is equally surprised when discovers that Lupin was his real father and has left him an usual legacy in his will – the burglary of the crown jewels of small country named Poldavie. When François starts on the job he discovers that another thief was there before him and has left a card signed Arsène Lupin…
eyelights: its delightful cast. its terrific blend of humour and crime caper. its style.
eyesores: its lack of Arsène Lupin.
‘Arsène Lupin contre Arsène Lupin’ is a 1962 black and white motion picture by Édouard Molinaro, a director who has worked with some of France’s greatest actors, and who landed a major international hit with ‘La Cage aux folles‘.
Inspired from Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin novels, this production is a crime comedy. Set after the death of André Laroche, the original gentleman burglar, it pits two of his illegitimate sons against each other in finding a Poldavian treasure.
This is not an Arsène Lupin story proper, but it does attempt to keep to the spirit of the source material, even as it takes on a more humourous tone (ex: some characters are there for mild laughs and it delves into some situational humour).
The picture sort of takes on the air of a Buster Keaton picture, without emulating its brand of physical humour: it uses intertitles to situate us, sometimes transitions between scenes with iris wipes, and lightly speeds up foot races.
Thankfully, it’s not slap-sticky or over-the-top; it’s a classy affair.
‘Arsène Lupin contre Arsène Lupin’ begins at Laroche’s lavish cathedral funeral, where politicians, police, criminals and friends all come to pay their respects. There his godson, François de Vierne, is told by his mom that Laroche was his father.
When he discovers, through a grammaphone recording bequeathed to him by Laroche, that his father was none other than the legendary Arsène Lupin, he is quite pleased – like father, like son, he is already a thief – albeit a petty thief.
He is tasked by Lupin with finding his long-lost brother and, to hone his craft, tracking down a treasure that the thief had hid for him. Meanwhile, Gérard Dagmar, a local dancer at Les Folies Bergères, discovers that he is Arsène Lupin’s son.
Unaware that he has a brother, Gérard decides to pay tribute to his late father by stealing a painting and leaving Arsène Lupin’s calling card. This attracts media attention and leads to him receiving a warning to never use Lupin’s name again.
But, from whom…?
The brothers are on a race to find the treasure. Our heroes disguise themselves, take on various identities to help them connect the dots. They eventually cross paths, outdo each other and also watch each other’s back – out of respect as peers.
However, danger lurks…
François is taken to a factory by a crime boss also looking for the loot and is set to plummet to his death through a trap that’s only held together by a steel cable dissolving by acid. Naturally, Gérard comes to the rescue in time.
That’s when they discover they’re blood – which doesn’t stop them from being competitive to the end. And from carrying on their pranks on the police, like putting their father’s pseudonym on a ceremonial plaque being unveiled.
The picture ends in a large-scale gun fight aboard the villain’s cargo boat, where the brothers try to extricate a hostage from his clutches. United at last, one can only imagine what kind of mischief they would be up to if given the chance.
Sadly, there would never be a follow-up to ‘Arsène Lupin contre Arsène Lupin’. It was merely a mild hit in a crowded year at the French box office, which might explain how this romp of a movie and its delightful cast didn’t return for seconds.
That’s a damned shame; they had the makings of something quite good.
Date of viewing: March 28, 2016