I reviewed one Eurospy movie with a mysterious black box as its "MacGuffin" (Alfred Hitchcock's term for the desired artifact motivating the plot, whose specific nature is unimportant); today we have another. Why not? A mysterious black box: perhaps the quintessential MacGuffin by Hitchcock’s definition. It could be anything—and it won’t cost the production very much. The European title to Claude Chabrol’s 1967 Hitchcock homage, The Road to Corinth, has a nicer ring to it, but the U.S. title, Who's Got the Black Box?, proves particularly apt. This movie makes a joke of its MacGuffin and its overall meaninglessness. When a radiant Jean Seberg (Breathless), eager to coax her secret agent husband away on a vacation, tells him that “there are other things in life besides looking for little black boxes,” he replies sagely, “If it weren’t little black boxes, it would be big red ones. You knew that when you married me.” With this, he not only makes an amusing joke about the pursuits of movie spies, but fully acknowledges Hitchcock’s assertion that the Macguffin itself doesn’t matter as long as audiences believe it’s important to the characters. In that light, Who’s Got the Black Box? is really quite a perfect title, succinctly summarizing the primary character motivation in most spy movies of the era. However, it also portends a film that goes for broader jokes at the genre’s expense. Even the back of Pathfinder's DVD case bills Who's Got the Black Box? as a “spy parody,” but the parody aspects are very subtle. In the tradition of the French New Wave, Chabrol more winkingly acknowledges (and freely uses) the genre’s clichés rather than outright spoofing them. Most of the film’s humor is generated organically by the characters and their predicaments, in keeping with Hitch’s frothier fare like To Catch a Thief. That said, the laughs are fairly abundant and quite genuine.
available on Region 1 DVD, which gives it the edge over the hard-to-find Marie-Chantal. Pathfinder’s anamorphic DVD seems slightly misframed (evidenced in the opening credits), but otherwise manages to convey all that beauty quite well. The English subtitles are kind of weirdly done, though; they seem like fansubs, translating every word literally (rather than poetically providing the gist of the dialogue, the way most subs do) and therefore often disappearing during rapid conversations before the viewer even has a chance to read them. That’s a shame, because you definitely want to be enjoying the beautiful Greek scenery and the beautiful Ms. Seberg rather than constantly reading quickly evaporating subtitles! Still, I’m glad the DVD exists. Fans of glossy Hitchcock imitations like The Prize or Arabesque (I’m not going to put this in the same league as Charade!) will probably find Who's Got the Black Box? worth a viewing.