Monsieur Gangster, or Les tontons flingueurs, is a funny but flawed French gangster comedy featuring a trio of lead actors (Ventura, Francis Blanche, and Bernard Blier) who would later team up with director Georges Lautner and dialogue writer Michel Audiard again on The Great Spy Chase a couple of years later. Sadly, "dialogue writer" seems to be pretty crucial to the appeal of this movie, with many IMDb users lamenting how much of the comedy is lost in translation. While many of the gags should make sense to anyone paying attention, there's lots of online chatter regarding the film's clever use of slang, both specific to the French language and culture, and specific to the 1960s. What's left is a slightly plodding picture with the occasional great moment, and several entertaining performances from the talented cast.
At least one part of the joke is the casting of Lino Ventura, a guy who, despite his sense of style, looks like he's probably a little more at home with the farm equipment he's been selling since he went straight. Ventura plays the challenges of being a mob boss with an amusingly casual frustration; he's more like a guy who wishes he hadn't been called into the office on a weekend than someone who's been thrust into gunfights for the first time in a decade, which might sit well with employees used to The Mexican's itchy trigger finger if they'd bother to give him a chance. Ventura's performance is accentuated by the equally casual performances by the men playing his three closest accomplices: Folace (Blanche), a lawyer who complains more about the cost of Patricia's school than whether or not The Mexican's business have paid up; Jean (Robert Dalban), The Mexican's droll butler, and Pascal (Venantino Venantini), an upbeat right-hand man who saves Fernand's life at least once the first day without the grin leaving his face.
From an American perspective, the film's at its best as Fernand tries to impress his competence at the job he's been given. When he starts trying to collect outstanding debts, he's primarily hounded by Raoul Volfoni (Blier), who is very angry about the amount of money he's losing to The Mexican and tries, very unsuccessfully, to pick Fernand off. These sequences have a slapstick tone to them, with Fernand returning to punch Volfoni in the face after each new attempt, with Volfoni's cousin Paul (Jean Lefebvre) playing the reluctant comic sidekick. The rivalry between Fernand and the Volfonis leads to the film's funniest scene, a confrontation at Fernand's house while Patricia is throwing a party. Blier pulls off the nice trick of making his character intimidating yet fun at the same time, and he and Ventura make for a good pairing.
However, the film feels burdened by the Patricia character and her romance with dopey composer Antoine Delafoy (Claude Rich), which Fernand hopes to end. Both Patricia and the angle from which Fernand approaches his relationship with her are not very well-defined, so the numerous scenes in which Fernand kicks Antoine out of the house don't have much motivation, other than Antoine being faintly insufferable. The viewer needs to have a side in the relationship for the scenes to be funny, but Patricia is too weak of a character to feel for her. The film's actual villain, Théo (Horst Frank), also never quite gets the threatening foothold he ought to have. Whatever crucial elements of style were lost in the trip from France to America probably would've covered for some of these shortcomings, but the bottom line is that Monsieur Gangster still ends up being a funny film that feels like it could've been much funnier.
The Video and Audio