Colonel Toulouse (Jean Rochefort) is dismayed to hear the news that a shipment of drugs has been intercepted in New York City - he's not pro-narcotics smuggling, it's just that the smuggler claims to have been sent by a high up member of the French secret service. Toulouse thinks he knows the identity of the spy pulling the strings and hits upon idea: he will convince this man, Bernard Milan (Bernard Blier), that there is an agent arriving at the airport who is privy to top secret information, the twist being, this fellow will be picked at random and have no idea he is the centre of such espionage...
The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe, or Le Grand blond avec une chaussure noire if you were French, was a modest international success in its day, and cemented the reputation of its star Pierre Richard as one of the eminent farceurs of his generation. For it is he who plays François, a concert violinist oblivious to the fact that when he arrived on his flight from Germany he was chosen as the patsy by Toulouse's right hand man (his shoes did not match, which was why he stood out). Although he is no fool, he does have a tendency to get into ridiculous situations, and none more ridiculous than being mistaken as a spy by the bad guys.
Not that the good guys come across as any less devious, so after a short while François is under survelliance by Milan's team while they are being watched by Toulouse's men. The big joke is that Milan and company cannot believe he is an innocent, and surely this whole air of foolishness he adopts must be a cover, but we know that he is indeed simply being himself. The laughs take a while to set up, and most of the initial third goes by without much in the way of ribticklers, yet director Yves Robert and his co-writer Francis Veber (no stranger to directing this kind of comedy himself) are carefully plotting the big pay-offs.
Richard was already a past master at this kind of thing, but it is this role which really earned him fame and recognition, and he is very good indeed, handling the slapstick and wit with equal aplomb. François is having an affair with Paulette (Colette Castel), the wife of the timpanist, Maurice (Jean Carmet) and when the bad guys listen in on them fooling around, they are put in the absurd position of trying to fathom some secret codes in their pillow talk (and broadcasting their audio outside the van they are using, leading to at least one hilarious gag with the sound of a toilet flushing). Milan decides he needs to make a more active effort to rumble François and sends in glamorous agent Christine (Mireille Darc) to seduce him.
Which of course ends up with Christine getting her hair caught in the fly of François' trousers when she attempts to get intimate, the kind of ludicrous situation that abounds in this film once it hits its stride. And yet, Robert has a serious point to make, in that appearances are not what they seem, and if you have been wrongly informed about somebody, especially if that information is detrimental to their character, it will colour you perceptions of them to quite outlandish degrees unless you stop and take stock of what you've heard and what you're seeing and how they don't match up. It ends with a caption about the right to privacy, but you can easily ignore all that and enjoy some well-crafted humour; the title sequence is particularly good, as well. Jaunty music by Vladmir Cosma. Remade as a mild Tom Hanks vehicle in the eighties.