Monday, July 6, 2015

The Gendarme of St. Tropez

La gendarme de Saint-Tropez; comedy, France, 1964; D: Jean Girault, S: Louis de Funès, Genevieve Grad, Michel Galabru, Jean Lefebvre

Ludovic Crouchot is a strict gendarme who loves to enforce law and order. He is overwhelmed when he is promoted and moved out of a provincial city into the prestigious and luxurious sea resort St. Tropez. When he arrives there, he meets other gendarmes - Gerber, Fourgasse, Merlot and others - and together they try to apprehend people in a nudist resort. However, his teenage daughter Nicole falls into a rebellious gang and ends up stealing a red car. In order to cover for her, Crouchot rushes to return the car, but gets into a series of troubles since it belongs to a gangster who stole a Rembrandt painting. Luckily, Crouchot saves Nicole, arrests the gangster and gets promoted, again.

This French forerunner to the "Police Academy" series, "The Gendarme of St. Tropez" - also sometimes translated as "The Troops of St. Tropez" - unexpectedly became a huge box office in its country of origin and spanned five sequels over the next 18 years, as well as one of the most recognizable roles of the beloved comedian Louis de Funes. Besides de Funes' indisputable charm and a sense for explosive, burlesque comic timing, the film does not have much going for it, since it is a light, sometimes even too relaxed storyline, yet it still has flair. One of the best jokes are the opening five minutes which are filmed in black and white (!) to undermine how gendarme Crouchot is unsatisfied with working in a small, grey provincial city - and features a few delicious gags: for instance, Crouchot captures a man selling a fish which is smaller than the regulations demand ("How long is this fish?" - "12 centimetres." - "And how much is the regulation?" - "22 cm". - "How much is 22-12?" - "Ten." - "Exactly. Ten days in prison!") while he hides behind a corner and imitates a chicken to attract a chicken thief closer and arrest him - only to switch to color film as soon as he reads the notice that he was promoted and sent to the hot spot St. Tropez, where all the action is. A few empty moments bother, since the pace is not dynamic enough, yet several jokes still manage to ignite even in the second half of the film (the fast driving nun being a small comic jewel) as well as send a few neat contemplations about Crouchot's rebellious daughter Nicole who figures the errors of her ways. A modest, but amusing fun.


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