Sat 19 Mar 2016
UP TO HIS EARS. Les Films Ariane, France, 1965. Originally released as Les tribulations d’un Chinois en Chine. Jean Paul Belmondo, Ursula Andress, Jean Rochefurt, Valêry Inkijioff, Valéry Legrange, Jess Hahn, Joe Said, Mario David. Paul Prèbost. Screenplay by Daniel Boulanger, based on the novel Tribulations of a Chinaman in China by Jules Verne. Directed by Philippe de Broca.
The popularity of Mike Todd’s Around the World in 80 Days and films like Ken Annakin’s Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines produced a type of film popular in the sixties and seventies that doesn’t exist today, big production action comedies full of globetrotting adventures and eccentric broad characters in prolonged chases and races often resembling films from the silent era in that plot took a back seat to continuous movement and action in a light vein.
French director Philippe de Broca (En Garde, Dear Inspector, King of Hearts) had a big success earlier with a Bondian spoof That Man From Rio featuring French superstar Jean Paul Belmondo as an innocent caught up in spy-jinks and very physical action adventure in a comic in the style of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Up to His Ears is de Broca and Belmondo’s followup to that international hit.
Belmondo here is Arthur Lemepeur, a poor billionaire so bored with his fortune he wants to kill himself, but keeps failing at it. To that end, and to the discomfort of his valet Leon (Jean Rochefurt), his fiance Alice (Valéry Legrange, and her parents (Jess Hahn and Marie Pancome), all on his yacht with him in Hong Kong, he asks his Chinese lawyer Mr. Goh (Valêry Inkijioff) to hire someone to kill him, a contract that will expire in thirty days.
The assassins show up (Mario David and Paul Prèbost), Roquentin and Cornac, a sad sack pair if there ever was one, but Belmondo eludes them ending up in the nightclub where Alexandrine Pinardel (Ursula Andress) strips. He ends up in her dressing room, and she takes him under her wing when he and Leon hide there and as must be expected, it is love at first sight.
In the meantime he has also learned he lost his fortune, so he no longer has any reason to die, but Mr. Goh has traveled to Nepal and can’t call off the assassins.
So Arthur and Leon are off to the the roof of the world, where they are very nearly sacrificed by natives in a remote area before being rescued by Roquentin and Cornac, who rather than assassins are private detectives Mr. Goh hired to protect him.
He returns to Hong Kong and finally finds Mr. Goh, only to discover that in an effort to help him his future mother in law has hired Hong Kong gangster Charlie Fallinster (Joe Said) to murder him and he now has an army of assassins pursuing him, Leon, Alexandrine, and Roquentin and Cornac as they try to live out the remaining time. Meanwhile, Fallinster is so angered by Belmondo’s continued escapes he no longer cares about the deadline and plans to kill him anyway.
Antic is the best way to describe this film. It doesn’t always make sense, but it is a live action cartoon as were several Belmondo did in this period, and his mobile face and lean athletic form give this the grace of a Jackie Chan film, which it resembles at times. The scenery and Andress are both gorgeous to look at — the word spectacular comes to mind — and she proves more adept at comedy than you might expect, much less an ice goddess than in most roles. A few bits here and there fall flat, but for the most part they work and there are some spectacular stunts.
The film is silly in an inventive and cartoonish way, a broad comedy that benefits by a decent script and the charm of the stars, particularly Belmondo and Rochefurt playing off of each other. It is currently available on Hulu in a nice letterboxed print, and one well worth the effort for fans of the genre, Belmondo, or de Broca’s films. It is not as good as That Man From Rio, but only misses that by a little. If you like this kind of broad action comedy, it is a fine example of the form.