Monday, March 6, 2017

DVR Diary: THAT MAN FROM RIO (L'Homme de Rio, 1964)

Steven Spielberg reportedly acknowledges L'Homme de Rio as an inspiration for Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the influence is obvious at times, most notably in a scene probably intended as a direct homage, in which sunlight striking an artifact points to the location of a treasure. In turn, director Philippe di Broca was clearly influenced by American silent comedy. Doing his own stunts like a slapstick trouper, Jean-Paul Belmondo takes a Harold Lloyd style walk on a skyscraper window ledge. In Rio, his character befriends a Brazilian boy who lives in a Buster Keaton style house in which pulleys move furniture into position or out of the way. Belmondo's action scenes combine legitimate derring-do and slapstick as Keaton's and Lloyd's did, and as some scenes in the Indiana Jones films do, particularly when Indy proves comically ineffective (at first) against bigger, stronger adversaries. Belmondo's hero is no Indiana Jones, however. Instead, Adrien is a soldier on leave who gets involved in a kidnapping while visiting his girlfriend Agnes (Francoise Dorleac), the assistant to Professor Catalan, a museum curator (Jean Servais). In a mad dash to save his girl, he tricks his way onto a plane bound for Brazil, only to see a drugged Agnes fail to recognize him. Her captors are South American Indians of some sort who apparently want to retrieve sacred statues taken by an expedition that included Catalan, Agnes' father and a Brazilian investor (Adolfo Celi). With that set up, the film is pretty much one long picturesque chase, shot on location, with more or less one joke. Though a soldier, Adrien is hardly a warrior and is terrified by the idea of not getting home before his leave expires. Yet for love of the girl he perseveres through ordeal after ordeal, including one big plot twist mid-film. I don't know whether Adolfo Celi has been typecast already in Europe as a heavy before his Bond villain Thunderball, but whether he had or not he proves an effective red herring here as an upper-class twit. To be honest, at almost two hours the film runs on a bit too long, mainly because di Broca never really manages to shift the tone of the film from goofball to anything more urgent. The silent clowns I take to be his models would have wrapped things up much more quickly before the fights and stunts grew monotonous, while Spielberg knew that audiences had to have more of an emotional stake in the action if they were to stick around longer. In that respect, That Man From Rio is inferior not only to silent precursors (e.g. Lloyd's Latin American fantasy Why Worry?) and to Raiders (except for those who require such stories to keep tongue locked in cheek) but also to the previous di Broca-Belmondo teamup Cartouche, a profoundly underrated swashbuckler that sticks a tearjerker landing. Rio probably never was meant to be as ambitious a picture, and on its own terms it clearly succeeds. Belmondo makes a fun frantic hero, Dorleac (Catherine Deneuve's doomed sister, dead at 25 in a car wreck) is even more fun as the often goofy ingenue, and the film is always great to look at. I've wanted to see this since before I saw Cartouche, and even if it's a disappointment by that film's standard I'm still glad I finally saw it.

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