Director Yves Robert (who cameos as a conductor) and co-writer Francis Veber's The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe is built around a simple idea: that any innocent man seen at close range looks inherently suspicious. In this case the man is Pierre Richard's weak-willed concert violinist who unwittingly finds himself used by Jean Rochefort's secret service chief to distract ambitious rival Bernard Blier into revealing his own private spy network. Unfortunately the set up takes so long that the picture is in danger of turning into a genuine run of the mill spy thriller for the first half hour, but once it gets going and Richard is allowed to display his impressive talent for physical comedy, whether it be with a dropped cigarette or a flawless pratfall, and best friend Jean Carmet goes through an impressive display of numbed reactions to the mounting number of dead bodies no-one else ever seems to discover, it's not too hard to understand why it became one of the best loved French comedies both at home and abroad. Vladmir Cosma's infectiously enjoyable theme tune with Gheorghe Zamfir on the pan pipes doesn't hurt any either.
The Return of the Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe cleverly reverses the premise of the original: rather than being an unwitting tool unaware he's supposed to be a spy drawn into a plot, this time Richard has to pretend to be a spy to get out of one as Rochefort finds himself alternately trying to kill him or protect him in the political fallout from the events in the previous film. In some ways it's a weaker film with a thinner and more obvious plot, but along the way it offers plenty of laughs built around Richard's ongoing obliviousness to the numerous failed attempts on his life and his own constant confusion over who is and who isn't in on his masquerade and Carmet's confusion over whether his friend is or isn't really a spy. Mireille Darc has a lot less to do this time - mainly be happy in the first half hour and turn up in another very low-cut dress in the finale - but things are a lot quicker to get started this time round.
While Arrow's UK DVD with both films is fairly aedequate, the remastered French widescreen DVDs are a better bet, with a superior English subtitle translation and some decent extras with the main players that are unfortunately unsubtitled.