Nicolas Mallet (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is the sort of man best described as a walkover, for people have been using him as a doormat all his life, taking advantage of his meek nature to exploit him. Halfway through a typical day where he has been exploited by all and sundry, he is sitting on a seat in the park which he was practically forced to pay for, and then overcharged, he notices a beautiful woman a few yards away and suddenly acts on impulse, walking over to her and grasping her shoulder. He murmurs an enigmatic sentence to her which leaves her suitably enchanted, and they make a date to meet in a local café, but what Nicolas doesn't know is his luck hasn't changed at all...
Le Mouton enragé, which translated as The Angry Sheep, was called in its English language release Love at the Top to make potential viewers think they were going to be watching the sort of hardhitting drama that Laurence Harvey had starred in some time before with Room at the Top, but whose impact still lingered in the memories of moviegoers - there was even a loose sequel called Man at the Top out contemporaneously in the United Kingdom, though that was equally drawn from a television series on at the time. Superficially, you could understand why those comparisons had been made as they both featured an ostensible nobody making leaps and bounds towards his ultimate success.
On the other hand, this was supposedly a comedy, though that said you would need a very strong sense of humour to laugh at a film where the hero beats one of his leading ladies within the first ten minutes, then builds up to a final act littered with murder and suicide. In fact, there was very little about this funny at all, though you did watch the activities of Nicolas with a cold observation that almost matched his icy heart, simply because he rarely did anything particularly sympathetic to endear him to the audience. The slapping occurs when he gets to a hotel room with this new woman in his life, Marie-Paule played by Jane Birkin, only to discover she expects him to pay for their sexual encounter which abruptly makes him snap.
In the café afterwards, he claims to his friend Claude (Jean-Pierre Cassel) that he raped Marie-Paule, though we have seen she was more than willing to be dominated by him, a spot of gender politics that overshadows the rest of the film, leaving you mistrustful of Nicolas from then on. Not that he should have remained a milquetoast, but being more assertive doesn't necessarily mean acting like a complete bastard which is what the message appears to be here, though by the end with Paris littered with bodies (well, almost) you're not entirely certain what the director Michel Deville was getting at. He was best known for getting good performances out of his actresses, and while that holds true for his excursions in this case it's the positions he places them in which makes for disquieting viewing.
Next up on Nicolas's list of conquests is Roberte (Romy Schneider) who is married to a philosopher and finding her life at a dead end that the newly created cad can offer a way out of. He is spurred on by Claude who has a grudge against the world after getting disabled in a car accident which left him unable to have sex, so he lives vicariously through his pal who reports back to him about the women he has bedded, but also the business deals Claude has guided him towards. When Nicolas tells his boss at the bank he is resigning to become rich and "screw lots of beautiful women" he's not kidding, as that's precisely what he does, but what is unsettling is that he appears to have abandoned any morality in the process; when he finally shows regret or reservations, he is so mired in his duplicitous existence that he cannot give in to those emotions now. What are we to make of this? Is it the ultra-cynical conclusion that to make it big you have to effectively sell your soul to the Devil, or that those actions would drag that soul down anyway? Either way, not exactly hilarious.