You never know who’s double-crossing whom in this picture, and that’s what makes a great caper movie. I won’t even attempt to summarize the plot. Suffice it to say that the fat cat villain gets his due, the thugs are beautifully outsmarted, and Jeanne Moreau (who has never been lovelier) gets Belmondo.
Remember the bad guy in “Goldfinger”? He’s the villain in this picture too, a swindler named Lacrosse, and he plays the part with far more finesse. Here he is, smitten by Moreau’s character, Cathy, doing a little bossa nova in the hotel corridor after an evening out.
Such style! And the double entendres, mon dieu! When Lacrosse invites Cathy to go for a spin in his BMW, he entices her by describing the car’s, shall we say, horsepower. “It doesn’t just keep to the road. It grabs you like a ribbon between your legs.” Later, Cathy checks back with her admirer. “Your suspension’s holding up?” she wants to know.
Marcel Ophüls proved himself to be a worthy successor to his father Max with this film. Those who know him chiefly for his scorching documentary, “The Sorrow and the Pity,” may be surprised to see his lighter side. Ten years later, George Roy Hill would direct “The Sting,” a similar story, also involving fixed races and much double-crossing. Paul Newman and Robert Redford give fine performances, but without the zing of the pairing of Belmondo and Moreau, the movie feels flat, a bit plodding, even with the Scott Joplin soundtrack.
From the acting to the delightful musical score, not to mention the fantastic shots of Paris and the French Riviera, “Banana Peel” will have you smiling from start to finish.
(12 June 2011)