Lionsgate has done me a service by issuing a very affordable DVD of this action thriller starring a 48 year old Belmondo. The DVD uses an English title (and includes an English dub along with the subtitled original) but I'll stick with the French tag to avoid confusion with another French film, Luc Besson's Leon, that's already known here as The Professional. Director Georges Lautner co-wrote this adaptation of a novel with the father-son team of Michel and Jacques Audiard. It's one of the first writing credits for the junior Audiard, who went on to direct last year's instant-classic prison film, Un Prophete, and nearly the end of the line for his father, a frequent collaborator with Lautner.
That brings us to Belmondo. We're on his side from the start because of the kangaroo-court treatment he receives in Malagawi, but once he reaches France the revenge story becomes something of a lark or a romp, with action on a comic book level. One of the first things Joss Beaumont does is befriend a bunch of hobos so he can dress up as one, create a scene with them to distract the cops staking out his wife's apartment, and sneak inside. It's the sort of scene you'd expect to see in a silent comedy and it plays like an excuse for Belmondo to act goofy. Maybe I'm being humorless as a critic, but Belmondo often seems too humorous for his subject. Later, he invades the hotel room of an ice-cream soda magnate in order to meet Njala's European wife, with whom the magnate is having an affair. Belmondo asks if the man facing him is in the ice-cream soda trade, then identifies his own trade as "espionage and brawling" in the subtitled version, "espionage and knuckles" in the dub. Here the star tips his hand and exposes the entire story as no more than an excuse to show Jean-Paul Belmondo beating people up, or occasionally killing them. The fights are more like gags than important points in the plot, though his showdown with a particularly nasty official (Robert Hossein) is more like a spaghetti-western showdown in the middle of Paris.
Hossein's character, Inspector Rosen, is built up as Joss's arch-enemy, but the most vicious thing he does in the picture, as far as I could tell, was to bring a lesbian policewoman with him to interrogate Joss's wife. Rosen plays the good cop while his sidekick strips Mme. Beaumont and promises to show her what she can do with a bar of soap. The payoff is when Joss saves his wife from bathroom rape by choking out the evil woman in the bathtub. It struck me as the most unpleasant scene in the film for its flaming homophobia, but I can't help suspecting that it was one of the most crowd-pleasing scenes for its original audience. It highlights the crass nature of the entire project, a trashiness that comes through despite Ennio Morricone's effort to give the film some musical gravitas.
Belmondo's treatment of a lesbian antagonist may not seem politically correct, but rest assured that he believes in keeping people closeted regardless of their sexual orientation.
You may be able to figure something out for yourselves from this trailer, uploaded to YouTube by AmberChiaCasting: