That Man from Rio

At the Astor

How do you review a film which every one already knows is funny? You might be perverse and say it isn't. But then even Harvey Harper, who lives in my entry and, well, hardly ever goes to the movies, said, "Oh, That Man From Rio is funny. And the film causes me to recall all the adventure films I have seen, as it were."

Harvey explained briefly in an hour and five minutes how the ugly actor Jean-Paul Belmondo travels in eleven different vehicles as his adventures bring him from Paris to Rio, to Brasilia, and to the Amazon jungle itself. And Harvey pointed out how each and every trite situation, from ledge-climbing falls onto rooftops to skin-clinging falls in the surf are brilliantly conceived and executed. Of course, he is right.

Once, the pretty Agnes (Francoise Dorleac) says she wants a car. Knowing it to be impossible, her rescuer chides, "Pink with green stars?" And in the next scene they drive to Brasilia in a pink car with green stars.

Yet, serious students of the cinema will want to probe the problems which de Broca's not-so-new film raises, problems beyond Harvey's ignorant laughter. Is Belmondo a French Marlon Brando? Or a Parisian Humphrey Bogart? Or, perhaps, a James Bond full of happy pills? Though each of these positions is defensible and, indeed, held by supposedly reputable critics, the clearest judgement must recognize Belmondo as only Belmondo, that is, Boob as Anti-Hero.

The Boob as Anti-Hero Hypothesis recalls Belmondo's early though distinguished (some say disguised) role in Two Women. In that film, Belmondo falls deeply and unrequit edly in love with Sophia Loren. All he manages to do by the end of the film is lead the Germans out of the valley and then die by the double-crosser's bullets. Show me a law-school-bound Harvard scholar who can resist such a man.

But mighty schlemiels from little schlepps grow. Then there was Breathless! Belmondo played an archetypal anomie only to have Jean Seberg rat to the cops and leave him dying. Who but Belmondo could die with a smirk?

I was told to miss Cartouche, but Belmondo must have done something wrong in his loveable way.

That Man from Rio is the most mature statement of the BAH Hypothesis. Belmondo is pounded in a barroom brawl, falls out of an airplane, is manipulated by feminine caprice, but throughout acts only to save his woman (as always, beautiful). Where others are uncool, Belmondo is cool-ly uncool. As Lillian Gish would say in different circumstances, "My Hero."