The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe is a '70s French spy comedy that never ventures into spoof or even too far into ridiculousness. It's not hilariously funny, nor so brilliant that it will replace anything on any of your top-ten lists. It is, however, a thoroughly enjoyable film with some hearty laughs and enough je ne sais quoi to keep you feeling happy the rest of the day.
Like all good spy stories, the plot is as complicated as it is convoluted. France’s #2 man in counter-espionage, Bernard Milan (Bernard Blier), wants to discredit his chief, Louis Toulouse (Jean Rochefort), so that he can become the top man. When a French heroin smuggler gets arrested in America and makes Toulouse look bad (though it was Milan who set him up), he hatches a plan to fool Milan into believing a new master spy is coming to Paris from America.
>Toulouse sends his associate Perrache (Paul Le Person) to the airport to meet with this spy (after having intentionally told Milan about this plan via hidden microphones that Milan doesn’t realize Toulouse knows about.) Milan sends his own people to the airport to find out who this spy is. Enter François Perrin (Pierre Richard), an innocent, unsuspecting violinist who Toulouse pretends is the master spy in order to trap Milan.
The plot gets even more complicated but it doesn’t really matter. One doesn’t need to understand all the machinations going on in order to enjoy the film. The basics are that Milan thinks Perrin is a super spy and does his best to counter-spy. Perrin is in fact just a mild-mannered, slightly bumbling, nice guy. The fun comes in how he befuddles Milan at every corner by not acting like a spy at all, which only makes Milan think he is both incredibly good and onto him.
The film never slips too far into ridiculousness (though one scene in which the sexy femme wears a butt-crack-revealing dress is just a tad over that line). It helps that everybody plays it perfectly straight. The actors are performing in a straight-up spy thriller that’s expertly drawn by a silly script and masterfully directed.
I saw The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe about eight years ago. I remember liking it very much, but never got around to watching the sequel or ever viewing this one again. Which is as good a summation to how I feel about this film as any. Watching it again last night, I found myself having a really good time, and yet I know I’ll not watch it again for many more years.
The Blu-ray looks very nice, though its 1972 creation date certainly shows. There is noticeable grain throughout, especially in the darker scenes, and the color has a slightly saturated feel, but overall it looks very decent. The audio as well is solid. It's a pretty sedate film in terms of sound, but the dialog is very clear and the soundtrack comes across well. Extras are few. There’s the usual trailer for the film, plus several other movies being released by Film Movement. It also comes with a nice essay by journalist Nick Pinkerton.
The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe is a completely enjoyable, if somewhat forgettable bit of cinematic fun. Recommended for spy buffs and French film fans alike.