Film, Spies

Film: Who’s Got the Black Box?

September 2, 2013

Claude Chabrol has been called the French Alfred Hitchcock. Watching his playful 1967 spy lark Who’s Got the Black Box?*, I caught glimmers of stylistic similarity.  That said, I doubt it’s the film that secured the comparison. It’s mainly just an agreeable spy spoof, cashing in smartly on the charm and charisma of its star, Jean Seberg.

Seberg stars as Shanny Ford, the wife of Robert (Christian Marquand), an  American CIA operative posted to Greece. On the orders of his slimy, simpleton boss Sharps (Michel Bouquet), Robert’s final mission is to figure out who is smuggling radar-jamming technology into the country. But when he gets too close to the truth, he winds up dead — and Shanny is framed as the prime suspect in his murder.  This misconception is exacerbated by Sharps, whose undisguised lust for Shanny has been rebuffed. To clear her name, Shanny sets out to solve the mystery herself — and thanks to a combination of bravery, charm, and pluck, she proves more resourceful and effective than Sharps’ agents, including primary love interest Dex (Maurice Ronet).

While there’s gunplay and violence and other spy trappings, this is mostly just an amusing, light-hearted romp — a classic MacGuffin chase. But unlike in a Hitchcock film, where the MacGuffin propels characters into suspenseful situations, here it’s mostly just an excuse to follow Jean Seberg around the rugged Mediterranean scenery as she outwits the bad guys (in fetching outfits and inappropriate footwear). The jokes don’t quite translate, but the amusing nature of the film does, reminding me a little of Topkapi, if not quite as memorable. It’s an inessential but pleasant diversion.

* Some Hollywood bonehead clearly thought this was a better title than The Road to Corinthe.  (The French title is La Route de Corinthe.)

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