Try this experiment. Say this to somebody you know. 'Et maintenant, Blaze… flattez-moi !' (And now, Blaze... flatter me!).
There is a good chance that the expression on their face will be one of astonishment and in the next minute they will burst out laughing.
'La Folie des Grandeurs' begins with this imperious remark that Don Salluste makes to his manservant, Blaze, and there is no finer scene to describe in an instant the vain, cowardly, deceitful, hypocritical and disgusting profiteer that is this character to whom Louis de Funès brings comic strength of immediate intensity and self-evidence. Louis de Funès, himself, is the primary feel-good tap in this film.
Oury's breathtaking stroke of inspiration is to make the villain the real hero, the character who is normally the one who we love to hate, by making full use of de Funès' comic genius - an uninhibited bundle of hysterical energy with an extraordinary talent for creative interplay.
The second feel-good source in this 'Folie' lies in the delectable dialogues by Danièle Thompson, Gérard Oury's daughter. In addition to their funniness, these dialogues also carry messages. In 'Les Aventures de Rabbi Jacob', the Oury family denounced anti-Semitism through the use of some well-chosen lines. In 'La Folie des Grandeurs', it is the turn of the cynicism of the powerful to be lambasted.
After experiencing the height of box office success with the spectacular performance 'Le Corniaud' (The Sucker - over 11 million tickets sold) and even topping that with 'La Grande Vadrouille' ('Don't look now... We're being shot at!' - 17 million tickets sold – for a long time France's best-selling film), the trio of Oury, de Funès, and Bourvil had to rise to a real challenge.
Gérard Oury had been thinking for a long time of filming a comedy version of Victor Hugo's romantic drama, 'Ruy Blas', and when he got down to planning it, he naturally considered bringing together once again his marvellous duo of actors. Unfortunately, the late lamented Bourvil died just before the start of filming and this seriously jeopardised the production.
Contrary to all expectations, Oury chose to replace him at short notice by a totally different actor, Yves Montand. As a result, he was forced to rewrite whole passages so that the plot was an exact fit for the character, who, from being a faithful but simple-minded servant like Sganarelle became a spiritual son of Scapin.
In the end, Gérard Oury, Danièle Thompson, and Marcel Jullian wrote a fantastically quirky adaptation of Victor Hugo's book, for which the author is thanked in the credits with these words, which fall between a joke and irreverence - 'Any resemblance to the characters of a famous drama would only be an unfortunate coincidence'!
Gérard Oury was a master of comedy cinema. The ingredients of his films were inherently high-quality: a plot based on a carefully-plotted series of misunderstandings and the large amount of freedom given to the actors, as well as a tribute paid to the French character, which is a delightful mixture of resourcefulness, bragging, and simple good companionship. Yet again this 'Big Boss' spiced things up as a result of his exceptional talent; a talent which explodes in 'La Folie des Grandeurs'.
You lose count of the number of cult scenes which are scattered throughout the story. From the collection of taxes by the miserly Don Salluste, to the morning wakeup call ('Il est l’or, monsegnor / l’or de se lever' – a play on words between 'or' (gold) and 'heure' (time)) and the unforgettable appearances of Alice Sapritch, it is to a pyrotechnic display of laughs that the viewer is invited.
Overlaying all this is Michel Polnareff's delightful music, directly inspired by the compositions of Ennio Morricone, which further enhances the comedic strength of what is acknowledged to be a French-style comedy masterpiece.
JEAN-CLAUDE GUERRERO (Films Bonheur)