Who's got an IQ like an Einstein?
He's a genius but he's a schemer who plays a fiendish game
Diabolically cool, don't fool with The Brain!
Two clumsy French thieves, Anatole (Bourvil) and Arthur (Belmondo), plan a spectacular heist: the attack of a freight train which carries secret NATO funds from Paris to Brussels. What they don't know is that another, much more manned and well-equipped team is planning the same thing. That team performed the Glasgow-London Great Train Robbery and is headed by Colonel Carol Matthews a.k.a. "The Brain" (Niven), a British criminal mastermind, who has also a deal with Frankie Scannapieco (Wallach), a Sicilian gangster.
The Brain provides examples of:
- All for Nothing: The base of the Statue of Liberty replica The Brain used to conceal the money and bring it to the USA inadvertently opens, scattering the money on the sea.
- Alliterative Name: Sofia Scannapieco.
- As Himself: The English poster, as seen above, includes "The Statue of Liberty" in the list of stars.
- Banana in the Tailpipe: Done to Colonel Matthews' car, with a dry sausage. As a result, when the car starts up, the whole exhaust system blows up and breaks away, forcing Matthews to use Arthur's taxi.
- The Caper: Two separate groups of thieves try to rob the same train at the same time, while a third just waits to take advantage of its results.
- Cool Pet: The Brain has a leopard pet.
- Cranky Neighbor: The couple who lives under the Brain's appartement. A water leak and Arthur's impersonating the Brain on the phone prompt the husband to go punch the gentleman upstairs.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Frankie is hot-headed and prone to humiliation, but he's much smarter and tougher than he seems.
- Didn't Think This Through: If the two heists didn't collide, Arthur's would have probably ended with him and Anatole riddled with bullets from the NATO guards' automatic weapons, that Arthur intended to confront with fake handguns.
- The Drag-Along: Anatole does not want to participate in the train job. Arthur nevertheless drags him into this operation, but Anatole constantly complains.
- Exploding Fish Tanks: There is a big fish tank in the Brain's apartment. It breaks because of Arthur when he is hiding in the apartment and fleeing from the pet leopard.
- Expository Theme Tune: The main theme is this, introducing the main character and plot.
- Follow That Car: Arthur orders the driver of a car (who is actually a policeman) to follow the car driven by the Brain.
- Foreign-Language Tirade: Frankie rants at his exhibitionist sister in Italian. In both the English and French versions.
- Gentleman Thief: The Brain is a genius thief, but also combines Quintessential British Gentleman and Officer and a Gentleman. Being played by David Niven helps.
- Ham and Deadpan Duo: Arthur is the ham. He is always self-confident, ambitious and bombastic. Anatole is the deadpan: he keeps on complaining and making sarcastic comments.
- Here We Go Again!: In the end, the Brain suggests Arthur and Anatole to attack another train in the United States.
- Impersonating an Officer: Arthur orders the driver of a car to follow another car. He says that he is the police. The driver does not believe him because he is a policeman himself, but he pretends to be fooled, because he thinks this may be a convenient way to get to the author of the train job and his loot.
- I Shall Taunt You: Arthur loves this. He actively trolls his warden to get thrown in solitary and escape, and insults the Brain's neighbor to create a diversion.Neighbor: It's raining in my place, Sir!
Arthur: It's raining in your place? As intended!
- Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: Anatole and Arthur manage to approach the train because they disguise themselves as railway maintenance workers.
- The Mafia: The Brain makes a deal with Frankie Scannapieco (Eli Wallach), a Sicilian mafiosi.
- MayDecember Romance: Between Sofia (Silvia Monti was in her early twenties) and Colonel Carol Matthews (David Niven was almost 60).
- Meaningful Name: The Brain owes his name to, well, that organ. His is too heavy for his neck to keep his head straight all the time.
- Medium Blending: An unusual example — the Brain is exposing to his henchmen his plan for a future train heist... with the projection of a short animated film, starring himself. The real heist goes much less smoothly that the one shown in the animation, of course.
- Mole in Charge: In his actual identity, the Brain overviews the transfer of the very money he is about to steal.
- Ms. Fanservice: Sofia, quite intentionally at first to piss off her brother. She introduces herself to the Brain by stripping down to her undies, breaking her window, gliding down a cord and getting a shower in front of Frankie, the Brain and their associates and bodyguard, all the while having a love song blazing through her radio note .The Brain: Your wife?
Frankie: No, my sister.
The Brain: Ah, she's still quite fetching.
- My Brain Is Big: The Brain's brain is not oversized but it is so heavy that, when he has a strong emotion, he cannot keep his head upright and it leans on his shoulders.
- My Sister Is Off-Limits!: Frankie really is protective of his sister.Sofia: You don't know my brother. If he saw us, he'd kill us.
The Brain: But that's quite unfair. He could wait until we actually did something.
- No Honor Among Thieves: Frankie makes a deal with the Brain to launder the money from the train job. Nevertheless, he tries to double-cross him and to take all the money for himself.
- Panthera Awesome: The Brain's pet, a leopard.
- Phantom Thief: The Brain's reputation precedes him, and the police constantly failed to even find him.
- Pool Scene: The Brain negotiate with Frankie Scannapieco in his swimming pool. This offers him the opportunity to meet his sister Sofia in bikini.
- Ramp Jump: Anatole and Arthur cross a drawbridge at full speed. The bridge is rising, so the car takes off. When it lands, it splits in two.
- Real Event, Fictional Cause: The Brain and his team performed the Glasgow-London Great Train Robbery, apparently.
- Red Baron: Col. Carol Matthews owes his nickname, "The Brain", as much to the size of the organ in his head as he does to his IQ and his operations' masterful planning.
- Refuge in Audacity: Invoked by both The Brain's and Arthur's plans, which are to reproduce an older heist. The Brain's plan also involves taking the money away in fire engines with sirens blaring. Also the chosen "Piggy-Bank" where Frankie hides the money.
- Ripped from the Headlines: Based on the Great Train Robbery of 1963, which is even mentioned as The Brain's handiwork prior to the film.
- Shameless Fanservice Girl: Sofia suggestively takes a shower in front of the Brain to get on her brother's nerves.
- Shout-Out: One of the Belgian guards on the train reads Tintin: The Calculus Affair.
- The Tape Knew You Would Say That: During the animated rehearsal of the heist.Animated Brain: Hello there. What is my plan to steal Nato's billions? We cannot repeat the Glasgow-London heist.
The Brain: Can we, gentlemen?
Gangsters: No, of course not.
Animated Brain: Well, it's exactly what we're going to do, because every idiot will react like you did.
- Too Clever by Half: The Brain taunts the mafia with informations about the money he wants them to launder, thinking them incapable of guessing his target.
- Train Job: A non-western version. The two separate heist plans are about stealing a ton of money from a NATO train.
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Played with. During the preparation phase, the Brain shows to his associates a cartoon presenting the various steps of the plan. However, during the actual heist, the Brain has a harder time than his animated counterpart, but still goes through with the robbery. In the end, the mafia shows up, having figured out the unspoken part of the plan (the time and the place) and takes the money.
- Unusual Pets for Unusual People: The Brain (who is a Gentleman Thief, and a British officer) owns a pet leopard.
- Villain Protagonist: The protagonists, Arthur and Anatole, are thieves.