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Film / Les Tontons flingueurs

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"Les cons ça ose tout, c'est même à ça qu'on les reconnait." Translation 

Les Tontons flingueurs (sometimes known as Crooks in Clover or Monsieur Gangster in English) is a 1963 French gangster comedy film directed by Georges Lautner. It became a national classic due to its memorable dialogues, which were written by Michel Audiard. The cast includes Lino Ventura, Bernard Blier and Francis Blanche.

Fernand Naudin, a former mobster, returns to Paris at the urging of a dying friend, "the Mexican", who appoints him his successor at the head of his criminal gang. However, the Mexican's former lieutenants resent Fernand's promotion and try to get rid of him. But even more problematic, Fernand finds himself saddled with the Mexican's daughter Patricia, a rebellious, flighty and playful teenage girl whom he now has to care for.

See also Les Barbouzes (1964) and Ne nous fâchons pas (1966), made by mostly the same people. With Les Tontons flingueurs, they formed a thematic trilogy, the Trilogie des Malfaisants.


Les Tontons flingueurs provides examples of:

  • The '60s: The movie was made smack dab in the middle of the Gaullian presidency (1958-1969). Maître Folace refers to the "nouveau franc" (the then-new French monetary unit since 1958), and Patricia throws a party with yé-yé music.
  • Ambulance Cut:
    • After he gets punched by Fernand (with the latter believing he was behind the road ambush, while it was actually Theo), Raoul Volfoni wants revenge and sets out to put a bomb in Fernand's car by night. As he gloats about blowing up Fernand in "puzzle fashion" and sending him "hear the angels sing" while setting up the bomb, he doesn't notice a very pissed off Fernand is right behind him. Cut to Raoul in a hospital bed with bandages on his head.
    • Raoul and Paul get ambushed by Theo in a Gangland Drive-By. They don't die of it though, they just end up in hospital again in the next shot.
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  • Amoral Attorney: Maître Folace is a notary who works for the Mexican's criminal ring.
  • Anti-Hero: Fernand. He's a Reformed Criminal, though he still tries to keep his legit businesses as legal as possible while dealing with the Mexican's legacy, which he isn't even interested in.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: Antoine's father is easily distracted. For instance, he notices a 18th century clock inside the mansion and is completely oblivious to the shootout that is going on.
  • Batman Gambit: Theo pulls one on Fernand to get rid of the Volfoni brothers, while trying to kill him.
  • Battle Butler: Jean keeps guns at hand at various places in the house, just in case.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Patricia is a 18 years old one, according to Maître Folace.
  • Caltrops: After Theo tricks Fernand into driving a truck of bootleg alcohol to set a trap for him (and blame the Wolfonis), his goons first drop a box of caltrops over the road to make the truck crash, before trying to gun Fernand down.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Antoine's father. See Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny! above.
  • Covert Pervert: Antoine's father, who has a taste for maids and appreciates a few nudes during his visit to Fernand.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Every character has some witty words to throw at some point, per the magic of Michel Audiard in the matter.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Technicolor became widespread in French cinema in the early 1950s. This movie was filmed in black and white to retain an old-school gangster movie atmosphere.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: Fernand Naudin's arrival in Paris is framed by the Arc de Triomphe.
  • Entendre Failure: Patricia was told by her father that "Fernand got me out of deep water", which she assumes involved rescue from drowning.
  • Everybody Smokes: As per '60s standard.
  • Gangland Drive-By: Theo attempts to kill the Volfoni brothers in a drive-by towards the end. He only ends up sending them to the hospital again (well, again for Raoul anyway).
  • Gargle Blaster: The film contains probably the most famous example of this trope in French cinema, in which the various characters partake of a bootleg hooch their gang used to distribute and talk about their Glory Days. (This whole scene was intended as a homage to Film Noir Key Largo.) There was a persistent legend that the actors were actually sloshed while filming. They weren't — you can't film a long, complex scene like that while being drunk.
    Maître Folace: We had to stop making it because consumers were going blind. It got us in no end of trouble.
  • Gratuitous English: Various untranslated English phrases (usually horribly mispronounced) pepper the dialogues. Jean the majordomo affects to speak English in order to sound more like a posh British butler, but he is the one who mispronounces the most.
  • The Gunslinger: Pascal knows his trade as main henchman of The Mexican then of Fernand, and he's proud to show his new Beretta to his cousin.
  • Hollywood Silencer: The silencers make various "bleep" sounds for comedic effect (Theo's gun is perhaps the most bizarre example, as it sounds like a uncorked Champagne bottle). It was a common trope in French gangster comedies of The '60s and The '70s.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Everyone misses their target during the silencers shootout.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villains: The Volfoni brothers always get hurt. It borders on Butt-Monkey for Raoul.
  • Insufferable Genius: Antoine Delafoy (Patricia's boyfriend). He can't stand Fernand's "direct approach" (he compares him to a caveman) and lack of intellect.
  • Last Request: The Mexican has one for Fernand: taking care of his daughter, his crime empire and his money.
  • Miss Kitty: Madame Mado is a procuress who runs a brothel and complains about television keeping her potential customers at home (that or she's just in cahoots with the Volfonis and Theo to not give money to Fernand).
  • Mob War: A three-way mob war erupts between Fernand, Theo and his followers and the Volfoni brothers after The Mexican's death.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: The Mexican has no known real name.
  • Reformed Criminal:
    • Fernand and The Mexican were Bash Brothers in their youth. Fernand went on to do more "legal" businesses.
    • Jean (the majordomo) is a former burglar, whom the Mexican caught red-handed as he was trying to force open his safe. In compensation, he was forced to work for a while as unpaid help, and when the time was up, he liked the job enough and decided to keep it.
  • Retired Badass:
    • Fernand, who was a partner-in-crime of the Mexican when they were younger. The Volfoni brothers and Theo's gang underestimate him due to the Mexican never having told them of him, but figure out he's a tough nut to crack the hard way. He also says he used to drive Patton tanks.
    • Bastien (Pascal's cousin and the Volfoni brothers' main hired gun) is a former resistance member.
  • Running Gag:
    • Raoul gets punched by Fernand each time he opens a door.
    • Raoul ends up at the hospital (though not as a result of the above).
  • Same Language Dub: German actress Sabine Sinjen (who plays Patricia) was dubbed by French actress Valérie Lagrange.
  • Shout-Out: The kitchen scene is a reference to Key Largo.
  • Sounding It Out: Fernand as he reads the Mexican's telegram.
  • The Starscream: Theo wants to get rid of Fernand to take the lead of The Mexican's crime ring.
  • Thematic Series: The film is part of an "unofficial" trilogy with Les Barbouzes (The Great Spy Chase, 1964) and Ne nous fâchons pas (1965), which were also directed by Georges Lautner and written by Michel Audiard, and starred Lino Ventura in the main role. All three are parodies (gangster films for Les Tontons Flingueurs, Spy Fiction for Les Barbouzes and a mix between the two with Ne nous fâchons pas) and have Lino Ventura as a badass Only Sane Man.
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: "Touche pas au grisbi, salope!"
  • Traitor Shot: About any time the camera is on Theo, he looks as shifty as possible.
  • Unproblematic Prostitution: Prostitution is discussed as a business venture, Madame Mado lamenting the competition of other countries for the girls and of the television for the clients. Even Patricia casually talks about human trafficking with Raoul.
  • Wild Teen Party: Patricia throws one with her friends, which explains why the house is empty of regular booze by the time the kitchen scene takes place.