24 April 2017 | ElMaruecan82
After years of scene-stealing second roles, De Funès steals the show, once and for all..
At the dawn of his career, Louis de Funès was a funny-looking guy pushed into the background but allowed to utter a few lines for a few bucks, more lines, more bucks, more experience, more expansive acting and so on and so forth, he climbed every single step that lead him to stardom, and he did it the hard way. Halfway in this inspirational career, he was a character actor specializing in bossy little middle-aged men, generally sporting a bushy mustache and a ferret- like expression making him look meaner, his dark hair, little nasal voice and mimics didn't leave much for sympathy but made him the perfect foil for actors like Gabin, Bourvil or Fernandel,
But as a naturally humble man, De Funès always took his job very seriously and pride from having been the busiest man in French cinema, that he wasn't a real star allowed him to play in many fields in the same time, his son recollects memories where his father could make two small parts in plays and then ending the night in a cabaret act. This ubiquity enriched the range of his acting talent and time did the rest; by the beginning of the 60's, he got rid of the mustache, he became bald an gray-haired, progressively, he was turning into that man in his fifties whose small stature yet angry persona would make him the perfect embodiment of the petty boss, strong with the weak and reversely.
De Funès became the incarnation of the Comedia Dell'Arte character "Pantalon" who is an equivalent of the Molière's 'Harpagon' he would play two decades later, the cheap old man, cherishing his wealth at the expenses of his duty as a father. In the rich and considerable gallery of characters he'd play in the 60's and 70's, at the peak of his career, he would always be either an authoritarian figure, a rich man, and a father, sometimes the three at the same time. The experience he built up during his second-rate roles provided him an extraordinary creativity and ability to inject energy and slapstick in these roles, he was the true heir of Chaplin, Donald Duck and Keaton yet he created something new that defined French popular cinema.
The real start would take place in 1964 with two of his most iconic roles in "St Tropez Gendarme" and "Fantomas" followed by "The Sucker" where he'd get second billing after Bourvil in 1965, after that, Louis de Funès was would never desert the box office top 10. But "Pouic- Pouic" (or "Squeak-Squeak" in English) was the film announcing that trend, it showcased De Funes' acting capabilities. He had already made an impression by taking the role of the father in "Oscar" in 1959 but in "Pouic-Pouic", he proved that he had the shoulders solid enough to carry a movie. He knew the play, for having played the butler role in the early 50's (and it can be seen as a poor man's "Oscar") but whenever he's on the screen, the film is just constantly funny and energetic. Funès wasn't 50 yet and was still young enough to pull these energy tantrums he knows the secret. Of course, it's routine from our perspective but "Pouic-Pouic" was the film that revealed it.
Now, the plot doesn't really need any further explanation. It's one of these screwball comedies driven by false identities and misunderstanding: the daughter of Leonard Molestier, a stockbroker, is tired of being courted by a snobbish millionaire (Guy Trejean) she persuades the car delivery guy (Philippe Nicaud) to pretend to be her husband. Meanwhile, Leonard is in Paris' Wall Street and his eccentric wife (Jaqueline Maillian) sell some of his shares to buy an oil concession in South America. For some reason, he doesn't believe it can be true and to prevent bankruptcy, he tries to sell it to the millionaire who courts his daughter. Things escalate as he learns she's married so he uses his son-in-law as a son to make his aspiring son-in-law to sign the papers, meanwhile the real son comes, and we know that whenever Leonard gets his partner to sign, something will interrupt it.
This is pure situation comedy humor, although the gags don't work with the same efficiency and the final twist is more than predictable, it mostly depends on the reactions of the actors, and what the film gets right, maybe a bit more than "Oscar" (which I didn't enjoy as I wanted) is the casting of Christian Marin as the tall and goofy looking butler, who, behind his English phlegm doesn't hesitate to make a few snappy comments, some of them reflecting what we might think of all these corny gags. Mireille Darc as the sensual daughter gets more and more intriguing and exquisite as the play advances, and while I loved Jacqueline Maillian, I couldn't help but think that the film escaped from perfection because it wasn't the time of Claude Gensac late. And I forgot Pouic-Pouic, a chicken who seemed to have no other purpose than inspiring the funny title of the movie but doesn't really add much to the plot.
The film is short enough to be enjoyed and the ending had the perfect revenge of Karma although it seemed to have been shot a bit hazily. Anyway, the film had the merit to show that Louis de Funès was the real thing on the field of comedy that any actor could pale in comparison, although Darc, Maillan and Marin were great supporting players, doing exactly what De Funès did for two decades, being the scene-stealer before stealing it once and for a