Mar 5, 2013

New Spy DVDs Out This Week: The Great Spy Chase

Today sees the release, from Olive Films, of the 1964 Eurospy classic The Great Spy Chase (aka Les Barbouzes - French slang for "secret agents" as Frederick Forsyth readers are no doubt aware) on DVD and Blu-rayLes Barbouzes, directed by George Lautner, is one of the all-time great Eurospy movies. And I don't mean that in an insular way, like it's one of those low-budget slices of cheese that we fans of the genre enjoy so much, but which your average modern movie viewer might scoff at. No, Les Barbouzes is the rare Eurospy film that you can show to your film snob friends and impress them with, too. It's a genuinely great satirical comedy, irrespective of its genre. It's also, unlike a lot of terrific Eurospy movies, not a James Bond imitator. If anything, Les Barbouzes plays more like a parody of the Dr. Mabuse movies, or of the espionage genre as a whole. Full disclosure here: it is a black and white, French language film that takes place mostly in one big house. (Well, a chateau.) While those elements might not sound like the ingredients for a top-shelf Sixties spy spoof, let me assure you that they all gel perfectly. (And just because it's set mainly in one location doesn't mean there isn't any gadgetry or kung-fu fighting!) The premise finds spies of all nations descending (under preposterous covers) on the home of a recent widow who inherited the patent to a new, top secret weapon when her scientist husband died suddenly. Each secret agent wants to secure the weapon for his own nation, and all are pretty much aware of who their competitors really are. Soon people in the house are dying at an alarming rate, frequently in rather hilarious ways. It's a great send-up not only of the spy genre, but also of Cold War politics at large—and America's role in a rapidly changing Europe. Lino Ventura leads the cast as the French agent vying for the widow's affections. Olive's DVD and Blu-ray present the film in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, in French with English subtitles. It's truly amazing that we're getting a Region 1 release of this overlooked gem, so buy it; support Olive, and maybe they'll put out more Eurospy treasures! Retail is $24.95 for the DVD and $29.95 for the Blu-ray. Both are available from Amazon for slightly less and other online vendors for even less than that.

Olive is also releasing an earlier Lautner/Ventura collaboration on DVD and Blu-ray today. Monsieur Gangster (aka Les Tontons Flingueurs) spoofs the gangster genre and apparently laid the groundwork for Les Barbouzes. I haven't seen it, but it's well regarded.

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