Le bossu (1960)

A 1960 swashbuckler, taken from Paul Feval's several-times-filmed novel, this offers gorgeous scenery and costumes, but is a little flat in the playing - the characters should be larger-than-life and none of the cast can compete in the swordplay stakes with the likes of Stewart Granger in Scaramouche. Part of the trouble is a plot that takes a whole reel (and fifteen years) to get going, as the murder of the Duke de Nevers (Huber Noel, of Devils of Darkness) in 1701 by a rival courtier, Gonzague (Francois Chaumette), leads to the exile-in-Spain of heroic swordslinger Henri de Lagardere (Jean Marais), who becomes guardian to his late friend's unacknowledged but legitimate infant daughter, aided by a comedy peasant servant (Bourvil) who starts out as an assassin but becomes a loyal retainer. Some years later, the girl (Sabine Sesselmann) has grown up enough to become the love interest of the somewhat-mature Marais (Sesselmann plays her character's mother as well and doesn't look fifteen, but it's still a perilously Lolita-like bit of business) and the evil Gonzague is trying to track down the brat and worm into the high regard of the new regent. The story straggles to Spain and back and Henri adopts a secondary identity with bald pate, false nose and big hump as 'le bossu', a lucky hunchback - of course tearing off his disguise in the climax so he can duel with the villain to a happy ending. It has dash and colour, but (like the Fantomas movies director Andre Hunebelle made with Marais) its character is defined by the hero's stolid, stiff demeanour and never quite takes flight. Bourvil, a French comic institution, doesn't travel well.

First published in this form here.

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