5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 27 September 2010
A film that, for me, brings back all sorts of fond memories. I first saw Cartouche as a teenager during its initial release in the 1960s when I was just discovering that there were some really good films out there that weren't in English. I had loved That Man From Rio and here was the great Jean-Paul Belmondo re-united with director Philippe De Broca in a rollicking swashbuckler. And having the luscious Claudia Cardinale along for the ride didn't hurt.
Cartouche (also known by the terrible title of Swords Of Blood) is a very French and very Sixties flick. De Broca's loose style of film making encompasses broad comedy, adventure, satire, romance, and even tragedy. It is the same style that made The King Of Hearts so memorable and it works just as well here. The story of a charming and incorrigible petty thief who rises to be a sort of bandit chief - after a slightly surreal comic interlude in the army - is the perfect excuse for fist fights, sword fights, chases, and romance with lusty wenches with wonderfully heaving bosoms. The flavour of the 18th century is beautifully captured with a realism that extends to the smallest details. At times, the realistic visuals seem almost at odds with some of the film's more slapstick elements, but it actually contributes to the superb period feel. In this respect, Cartouche is somewhat reminiscent of some of the bawdier bits from that other great Sixties period romp Tom Jones.
Jean-Paul Belmondo is perfect in the title role, not only more than equal to all the physical demands of the part but also moving through all his character's moods effortlessly. Belmondo is a wonderfully natural actor and it is hard to imagine anyone from Hollywood doing this sort of part so well. Co-star Claudia Cardinale has seldom been better or more beautiful - her character is well-named as Venus. She is overflowing with earthy passion both as an outlaw and a lover - even more so as a jealous lover. I could never understand why Belmondo would prefer the icy aristocratic Odile Versois to the magnificently sexy Cardinale.
As usual with these films, Belmondo gets a couple of sidekicks. One is a gentle giant played by Jess Hahn, a sort of European Alan Hale who was forever popping up in films of various languages. The other is a young Jean Rocheforte, that wonderful French actor who would have such a long and impressive career. Here he is the Mole, a slightly more refined bandit with the soul of a poet. The villains, led by Marcel Dalio, are suitably hateful, if not quite in the Basil Rathbone league.
Cartouche is great fun and blessed with true star quality performances from Belmondo and Cardinale. It's one of those movies that is always a joy to take out and watch again. If you're seeing it for the first time, you're in for a real treat.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 8 January 2011
Superb direction by de Broca, Belmondo would never be this good again (the rest of his films were pretty much a repeat of this role), and Cardinale was at her most gracious, luscious, and beautiful. Photography is competent, support cast likewise, and dialog improves after some initial stilt.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Cartouche is an unusual and interesting swashbuckler. For the first half, it's a raucous, funny tale of venality and romance that takes place in pre-Revolutionary France. Then it moves gradually into something more serious, and ends on a somber and decidedly fatalistic note.
Louis-Dominique Bourguigon (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is a rogue and a thief, quick with his fingers or his sword. He's part of a large Parisian gang headed by Malichot (Marcel Dalio). Dominique thinks he can do better, misjudges and with Malichot's henchmen after him, decides it would be prudent to join the army. He signs on with two friends, La Doceur (Jess Hahn) and La Taupe (Jean Rochefort), he met in a tavern. As cowardly realists, they become the only survivors of a bloody battle. As survivors, they're hailed as heroes. As heroes, they're ordered to be in the front line of tomorrow's battle. So they steal the Army's payroll and head back to Paris. On the way, Dominique encounters a dancer who shows more cleavage than the Grand Canyon. "My name is Venus," she tells him. "I'm nineteen. No parents, but lots of lovers." After another tavern fight, this one as funny as anything the Three Stooges could have come up with, the four of them make it to Paris. Dominque confronts Malichot, who at heart is a bit of a groveling coward, and takes over the gang. He now calls himself Cartouche and his rules are simple. "Let bygones be bygones. No bloodshed. Aim at the powerful. Keep accounts and give everyone a fair deal." All goes well until Cartouche meets for a second time Isabelle de Ferrussac, wife of the head of police. Venus (Claudia Cardinale) may love him but he is drawn toward Isabelle (Odile Versois). And slowly the story moves into more serious complications involving jealousy, betrayal, loyalty and sacrifice. I enjoyed the film a lot, but someone who watches it needs to be prepared that this swashbuckler doesn't end with more happy swashbuckling.
The film has a great look about it, with horses galloping across the French countryside, lavish costumes and ornate settings. The photography is as lush as the serving wenches. Belmondo makes a terrific athletic hero, adept at fighting or humor, believable as a lover or a leader. Claudia Cardinale as Venus and Odile Versois as Isabelle vividly represent two opposites of a desirable woman in the movies...earthy and direct or shy and a challenge. Cardinale comes off better, I think, because the role has passion as well as some good lines. "Enjoy life, Dominique," she tells him, "it wards off death." Later she points out to him that "when you are very rich, even richer than you are now, hay will be the same price." Marcel Dalio is especially enjoyable as the overbearing and then obsequious Malichot who winds up with a brand on his forehead and an abbreviated life. He was Jewish and he and his wife barely escaped France when the Germans took over. He wound up in Hollywood during the war playing small bits. In Casablanca he was the roulette man at Rick's who, with Rick's okay, helps the young couple make enough winnings to buy the two transit visas. In fact, he was one of France's first-rate film actors. Watch him as Jean Gabin's escape partner in Grand Illusion or in Rules of the Game. After the war he headed back to France and resumed his career as a major French actor.
If you like foreign swashbucklers, you may like Cartouche even with it's dark ending. You might also take a look at Revenge of the Musketeers with Sophie Marceau and Le Bossu with Daniel Autieul. The DVD picture is excellent. There are no extras.