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Le Bossu Review

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An honourable rascal assumes the identity of a hunchback financier and secretly plots his enemy's downfall.

★★★★★

Paul Feval's classic adventure Le Bossu (The Hunchback) was originally serialised in La Siecle in the middle of the 19th century. This is the sixth screen version, but the problems of linking the episodes into a seamless narrative have yet to be satisfactorily resolved, with too many segments climaxing in an unspoken "To be continued..."

Sixteen years have passed since the most famous swordsman in France, the Duke Of Nevers (Perez) was stabbed by his scheming cousin, Gonzague (Luchini). But, unbeknown to him, Nevers' daughter Aurore (Marie Gillain), survived his ambush and is living with a theatrical troupe under the protection of Lagardere (Auteuil), an honourable rascal who alone knows the secret of Nevers' legendarily lethal sword thrust. Sworn to avenge his master's murder, Lagardere assumes the identity of a hunchbacked financier and begins plotting Gonzague's downfall.

Although Auteuil isn't anyone's idea of a man of action, he emerges from this rousing romp with flying colours. Handling a sword with aplomb and playing the hunchback with pantomimic glee, he dominates the second half of the picture, only faltering slightly in the more tender scenes with Gillain.

Having guided Jean-Paul Belmondo through Cartouche in 1961, De Broca is no stranger to swashbuckling and so this handsome picture is never anything less than sabre-rattling entertainment. Yet for all its pace and polish, there's something old-fashioned and rather forced about it.

Jean-Francois Robin's photography is overly painterly, Christian Gase's costumes are too perfectly period, even the acting is over-eager. Like Bertrand Tavernier on D'Artagnan's Daughter, De Broca is caught between parody and reverence.

This undemanding crowd-pleaser still leaves DiCaprio's Man In The Iron Mask trailing in its wake.

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