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  Morfalous, Les Last legionnaire standing
Year: 1984
Director: Henri Verneuil
Stars: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jacques Villeret, Michel Constantin, Marie Laforêt, Michel Creton, Matthias Habich, François Perrot, Gérard Buhr, Junior John David, Robert Lombard, Pierre Semmler, Caroline Silhol, Michel Beaune, Michel Berreur, Hans Verner
Genre: Comedy, Action, War, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: In 1943, at the war-ravaged Tunisian city of El Ksour, a battalion of French legionnaires on a mission to retrieve a valuable gold reserve from a local bank vault are ambushed by German troops. Only a handful of men survive the bloody assault including wily and resourceful Sgt. Pierre Augagneur (Jean-Paul Belmondo). Although outnumbered and outgunned, Augagneur reckons if he and his friends somehow outwit the Germans they can help themselves to the gold. A notion to which stern, by-the-book Warrant Officer Mahuzard (Michel Constantin) stands vehemently opposed. Eventually other parties arrive at the scene to stake their claim to the gold, alliances are formed then break apart and everyone seems out to double-cross each other.

French superstar Jean-Paul Belmondo began his long filmmaking partnership with director Henri Verneuil with the comedy Un singe en hiver (1962). They continued through caper films Greed in the Sun (1964) and The Burglars (1971), sobering war drama Weekend at Dunkirk (1964) and thrillers Per sur la ville (1975) and Le Corps de mon ennemi (1976). Les Morfalous (The Vultures), their final outing together, plays like a hybrid of all these genres. Some liken it to a Gallic variation on Kelly's Heroes (1970). However despite a semi-playful tone and typically buoyant turn from Belmondo, in lovable rogue mode, it is arguably a much darker, even more cynical film. For an ostensibly comedic caper, Verneuil pulls no punches in his depiction of wartime brutality, punctuating wryly humorous moments with jarring violence and gore. In addition the script, co-adapted by Verneuil and Michel Audiard from a novel by Pierre Siniac, espouses a dog-eat-dog mentality where even the most seemingly sympathetic player succumbs to greed while the last survivor is ultimately the most cunning.

Broken into three distinctive acts with different set-ups and tones, the strongest remains the opener which features a great set-up Verneuil exploits for maximum tension. Here, initially bereft of weapons, Augagneur and his fellow legionnaires - including comedy staple Jacques Villeret as jittery, dysentery-ridden artilleryman Béral - must use every ounce of ingenuity to stay alive. The midsection skirts closer to sitcom as Augagneur imprisons his superior then tries to coerce weasely bank manager Laroche-Fréon (François Perrot) and his glamorous but dissatisfied wife (Marie Laforet) to help pull off a seemingly impossible heist. While the latter succumbs to Augagneur's roguish charms it becomes gradually clear she harbours her own dangerously duplicitous agenda. Finally with the introduction of cavalier German tank commander Karl (Matthias Habich), whose self-interest and guile rivals Augagneur's own, Les Morfalous transforms into a dysfunctional buddy movie with the pair trying to make their way through the desert. From the second act onward the pace slows, the plot meanders and the film's charms grow more sporadic. Luckily Belmondo's wisecracking mega-wattage movie star charisma remains undimmed as the action ambles on towards a deliciously ironic ending. Georges Delerue supplies a robust score.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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