Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Brain (1969)

The Brain, (or Le Cerveau if you saw the French language version), was another of those big international co-productions which flourished in the late sixties and early seventies.  An action comedy, it features a truly eclectic cast, headed by Jean Paul Belmondo and Bourvil flying the flag for France, Hollywood's Eli Wallach and, in the title role, Britain's David Niven.  It's a movie I haven't seen since I was a kid in the seventies, when the English language version used to play on TV.  I have warm, yet vague memories of it being an amusing diversion, with Niven providing a decent comic turn as the charming, but devious, criminal mastermind who, whilst being hunted by the police, plans a daring robbery of a NATO payroll from a train.  Despite entering into an uneasy alliance with the Mafia, Niven finds his plans under threat from a pair of bungling French criminals, (Belmondo and Bourvil), who are planning to rob the same train.

I honestly don't remember any of the plot details, but a few scenes have lingered in my memory, notably Belmondo's jail break early in the movie, with him and Bourvil (digging from the outside) using home-made excavating machines to try and dig a tunnel and inevitably missing each other.  There's also a sequence where Niven sees himself on a TV in a shop window, identified in a news report as being wanted in connection with the 'Great Train Robbery', causing a rush of blood to his head which characteristically results in his overdeveloped brain being too heavy for his neck, causing his head to tilt to one side.  His attempts to unobtrusively prop up his head whilst avoiding the police provide Niven with an opportunity for some mildly amusing physical comedy.  Despite being the most successful French produced film of 1969, the English language version of The Brain is now pretty much forgotten, (for all I know, the French version plays regularly on French TV), not having been screened in the UK since the seventies, as far as I know.  A pity, as it is, as far as I recall, a glossy, well made caper movie typical of its era.  It also provided me with my first proper encounter with Belmondo, (I don't count his brief cameo at the end of the 1967 Casino Royale), resulting in a lifelong fascination with his movies. 

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