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Film / Les Barbouzes

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Les Barbouzes (known as The Great Spy Chase in English-speaking countries) is a 1964 French film directed by Georges Lautner. It starred Lino Ventura, Bernard Blier, Mireille Darc and Jess Hahn, with dialogues by Michel Audiard. "Barbouze" is a French slang word for "spy", deriving from the idea that spies hide behind false beards.

It is a spy comedy built around the efforts of agents from various countries to extract valuable weaponry patents from the young and attractive widow of Constantin Benarshah, an international arms dealer who mysteriously disappeared then was found dead.

The film was the second in a thematic trilogy, the Trilogie des Malfaisants, after the gangster comedy Les Tontons flingueurs (1963). The third film (most of) this crew did was Ne nous fâchons pas (1966).


Les Barbouzes provides examples of:

  • The '60s: Nothing tells this is the early French sixties more than Francis Lagneau's superior referring to his boss while looking at the framed photo of said boss on the wall with respect. Said boss is, of course, the then-President of the Republic, Charles de Gaulle.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Francis Lagneau (Lino Ventura) is bulky, but still wears a nice tux. And you probably don't want to be on the receiving end of his Good Old Fisticuffs.
  • Blatant Lies: Each and every European spy tells bad lie after bad lie to Amaranthe about how they were friends with her deceased husband. The Soviet spy, Boris Vassilieff (Francis Blanche), really takes the cake.
  • The Can Kicked Him: What Francis Lagneau nearly gets. Boris Vassilieff put explosives in his room's toilet's flush. He makes a long rope with everything he could find, attaches it to the flush chain, barricades himself far enough behind furniture and pillows then pulls the rope. The toilets then explode.
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  • The Comically Serious: Outside of the somewhat buffoonish Boris, none of the European spies can be considered as comic relief, they're all pretty serious (as for Francis Lagneau, this trope was straight up invokedtypecasting for Lino Ventura) and they all end up in comedic situations nonetheless.
  • Demolitions Expert: Boris Vassilieff is an expert with explosives. So much so that his nickname is "Trinitrotoluene" ("TNT").
  • Driving Question: Parodied at the beginning with the narrator asking the question, "But who gave the first kick to the ass?"
  • Enemy Mine: The European spies try to kill each other with traps at first. Then they face the dozens of Japanese and Chinese mooks together.
  • Hollywood Acid: Someone put acid in the shower head of Boris Vassilieff's room. Fortunately for him, his spy training likely included deep checking of the rooms in which he stays. He takes a brush, activates the shower and watches the brush dissolving, clenching his fist.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Like in Les Tontons Flingueurs, silenced guns produce anything but realistic sounds.
  • I Have Many Names: The French agent, Francis Lagneau, has a hilariously long list of nicknames: "Petit Marquis", "Chérubin", "Talon rouge", "Falbala", "Belles Manières", "Requiem", "Bazooka", "La Praline" and "Belle Châtaigne".
  • Literal Ass-Kicking: The film starts with a spy opening a train's door to look outside, with an enemy spy behind him kicking him in the butt, which makes him fall from the train and kills him. The narrator even states, "But who gave the first kick to the ass?"
  • Narrator: There's one introducing the story and the various characters. Comedian and actor Pierre-Jean Vaillard provided it in French.
  • Newspaper-Thin Disguise: Every spy in the lobby of the hotel in Istanbul hides behind a newspaper.
  • Romancing the Widow: The European spies try their best to win Amaranthe's favors in order to get the weaponry patents, and all fail except the French one, Francis Lagneau.
  • Running Gag: The American (Jess Hahn) who keeps coming back at Amaranthe, offering more money for the patents each time.
  • There Can Be Only One: ...who will get the patents. Which doesn't mean the spies can't make temporary ceasefires and even short-term team ups.
  • Trophy Wife: Amaranthe was this to Benarshah.
  • Tuxedo and Martini: The film being a parody, it gives more than the occasional nod to a famous British agent, this being the year Goldfinger made him a global cultural phenomenon.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Benarshah was fat and bald, and Amaranthe is a sexpot.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Pretty much everyone underestimates the badassery of Francis Lagneau, the French spy.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Amaranthe is amazingly unfazed by all the shit that's progressively going on in her late husband's castle if she's not completely oblivious to it, from a bunch of spies pretending to be former friends of her husband to a fat American chasing her to try to buy the patents. And that's not even counting the dozens of Chinese and Japanese agents killing her house servants and being mowed down by the aforementioned spies.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: The disguises of Boris Vassilieff, Eusebio Cafarelli and Hans Müller in the final scene.