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Bossu, Le (1997)
aka On Guard

User Rating: 7.1/10 (1,265 votes)

Philippe de Broca
Philippe de Broca (writer)
Jean Cosmos (writer)


Audio: French
Subs: English


On Guard (1997)
Review by Robin Clifford, Reeling Reviews

Rating: FRESH

“On Guard!” won’t be placed in the pantheon of the best of the swashbucklers but it is a whole lot of fun and you get to see the one of the world’s best actors, Daniel Auteuil, have a whale of a good time.

On Guard!

Royalty, sword fights, swashed buckles, musicians, actors and hunchbacks
are just a few of the elements covered in the 7th making of the French
period drama-comedy "Le Bossu (The Hunchback)." In the latest remake
called "On Guard!" Daniel Auteuil plays Lagardere, a sword master hired
as the bodyguard for the Duc de Nevers (Vincent Perez). When the duke
learns that he is a father he rushes to his lover for a whirlwind
courtship and marriage, but treachery lurks in the guise of his cousin
and heir, the evil Comte de Gonzague (Fabrice Luchini), and assassins
are sent to dispatch Nevers, his wife and child.

When the duke is mortally wounded and believes his new wife is also
dead, he places his child in the custody of Lagardere who vows to
protect the new heir and exact revenge, no matter how long it takes. The
swordsman, knighted chevalier by his liege lord, soon learns that the
heir is a girl child, not a boy. The pair escapes Gonzague's evil
clutches and seeks refuge with a traveling Italian music troupe moving
from town to town across France. 16 years later the wandering artists
return to Paris and Lagardere makes plans to fulfill his vows, destroy
the Comte and his henchman and return the duke's wealth to his child. To
do this, the chevalier impersonates a hunchback (a sign of good luck in
1700's France) and works his way into Gonzague's good graces. Of course
(as if you expect otherwise) Lagardere keeps his promise to his lord.

This is a sometimes silly, frequently thrilling and often funny period
story that utilizes its star's charm and ability to good stead. Auteuil
is physically capable on both ends of his character's spectrum. He is
graceful and quick with the sword as the chevalier and smart and ugly as
the deformed le bossu. The actor has proven his dramatic skills many
times and here proves his comedic mettle, too, particularly as the
scampering hunchback.

Vincent Perez, known for his dramatic personae, proves to have a
delightful sense of wit and gives the most likable performance I have
seen from the actor. It's unfortunate that the character of Le Duc
leaves the scene early on. Fabrice Luchini lacks the moustache-twirling
villainy that his character should have but his main henchman, Peyrolles
(Yann Colette), helps make up for the lacking. Pretty Marie Gillian, as
the teenage daughter of the duke, Aurore, plays well off of Auteuil
giving her perf the physicality, especially with a sword, that it needs.
The great French actor Philippe Noiret gives his usually presence in the
small role as Nevers royal uncle, Philippe d'Orleans.

Director and co-writer Philippe de Broca, sharing script credits with
Jean Cosmos and Jerome Tonnerre (from the Paul Feval novel), does a
solid job of bringing the swashbuckling adventure yarn to the screen
once again. The film has the look and feel of the sword fight flicks of
the 30's and 40's with its old fashioned action-adventure akin to the
venerable Classic Comics, but with more humor. The story is a
lightweight, frequently light-hearted and whimsical piece of period
fluff that does not take itself too seriously. Instead of maintaining
the pseudo father-daughter relationship of, say, Les Miserables, "On
Guard!" is contrived with nonsensical ending where the aging sword
master ends up romantically tied to his ward. This romance, after most
of the film develops the fatherly feelings Lagardere has for Aurore, is
a bit of silliness that actually detracts from the film.

The sword fighting and action sequences are fast and fun as our hero
takes on hordes of bad guys single handed - and defeats them readily,
despite the odds. The repeated use of the "Nevers Attack," the fighting
technique developed by the duke that always end with Lagardere's
opponents getting a sword blade between the eyes, is never boring and,
as the film draws on, expected.

Tech credits are sound throughout the film with lenser Jean-Francois
Robin capably capturing the action, from the blade work to the exciting
chases sequences. Costuming, by Christian Gasc, help achieve the period
feel nicely, as does the production design by Bernard Vezat.

"On Guard!" won't be placed in the pantheon of the best of the
swashbucklers but it is a whole lot of fun and you get to see the one of
the world's best actors, Daniel Auteuil, have a whale of a good time. I
give it a B.


"It was too silly and formulaic to get my undivided attention."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz ( I personally think Mr. Schwartz is a dweeb![lol])

An old-fashioned swashbuckler directed and co-scripted by Philippe de Broca ("Cartouche"/''King of Hearts'') from the 1857 book ''Le Bossu'' by Paul Féval, which makes this the fifth screen adaptation of this serialized novel. Le Bossu translates as ''The Hunchback,'' and it is filled with lighthearted charm but repeats a tired story of sword fighting, heroics, villainy, romance, treachery, deception and revenge. It was too silly and formulaic to get my undivided attention. The other co-writers are Jean Cosmos and Jerome Tonnerre. 

It is set during the early part of the 18th century, which includes the Regency period.

Lagardère (Daniel Auteuil) is a fun-loving street urchin who meets the dashing, wealthy, and hedonistic Duke de Nevers (Vincent Perez) in his uncle's fencing class, and later befriends him by delivering a purloined letter from the duke's wealthy, attractive and noble girlfriend Blanche de Caylus (Claire Nebout) telling him he's now a father. The news of a potential heir elates the duke, a master fencer, who teaches Lagardère his famous Nevers attack lunge move that he promises will make him immortal, as it ends with the point fatally piercing the enemy between the eyes. They happily travel together to Blanche's country estate, where he's to get married and meet his new heir. While en route the foundling is knighted as Chevalier de Lagardère and acts as bodyguard. 

But a new heir doesn't sit well with the duke's malevolent and greedy cousin Count Gonzague (Fabrice Luchini), who has now been replaced as the sole heir to the fortune and aims to remedy that by slaying his cousin and the child to gain the entire inheritance for himself. At the wedding reception the reptilian Gonzague and his many assassins massacre the entire wedding reception and kill Nevers, who before dying makes Lagardère promise to look after his child and avenge his death no matter how long it takes. Meanwhile Lagardère has branded the masked Gonzague with a hand wound, while the sly Gonzague has contrived to convince Blanche and everyone else that Lagardère abducted the baby and did the foul deed. How she could believe that when she witnessed the many men attacking her hubby, is beyond my belief. In any case, she's held under house arrest by Gonzague for the next 16 years believing that her daughter Aurore and her abductor are dead. When Lagardère was hunted by Gonzague's men, he joined a travelling Italian acting troupe and faked his death. For the next 16 years he raised the young Aurore (Marie Gillain) as his daughter without telling her the secret, and they both worked as acrobats in the show. She learns from him to be a master fencer and also shows more than a paternal interest in her father, which he gracefully deflects.

When the acting troupe comes to Paris the revenge plot begins, as a series of events allow Gonzague to know that both Lagardère and Aurore are still alive. Lagardère disguises himself as a hunchback and becomes the secret business emissary of Gonzague, who schemes to cause a run on the bank so he can purchase the Louisiana Territory. Gonzague gets his come-uppance as expected and since the hero of the story is no longer linked as a father to Aurore, their love is easily converted to one of an older man with a much younger girl as the juvenile adventure story is giving a French adult touch--probably the reason it took a number of years to reach America.

Daniel Auteuil was too old to be convincing playing a young man of 20 who ages to 36, but nevertheless still looks the same--like an old man. 

REVIEWED ON 3/26/2004        GRADE: C+ 


Producer  	Patrick Godeau 
Director  	Philippe de Broca 
Writer  	Jean Cosmos, Jerome Tonnerre and Philippe de Broca 
Starring 	Daniel Auteuil  	Fabrice Luchini  	Vincent Perez  	Marie Gillain  	Philippe Noiret 
	Yann Collette  	Jean-Francois Stevenin  	Didier Pain  	Claire Nebout  	
Studio  	Empire Pictures 
Review  	Paul Feval's 1857 novel--a story of swordplay, political and economic corruption, love, deception and revenge set in early eighteenth-century France--is an adventure classic in its home country, and it's been filmed there no fewer than five times. The newest version, adapted and directed by veteran Philippe de Broca ("That Man from Rio," "King of Hearts"), is vastly enjoyable--a stylish, affectionate, old-fashioned swashbuckler. When Hollywood tries this sort of thing nowadays, the result is either far too heavy (the latest version of Dumas' "The Count of Monte Cristo," which was published little more than a decade prior to Feval's book), or cartoonishly jokey (the various takes on "The Three Musketeers"). The French, on the other hand, still have the knack to do it right: De Broca's is a witty, elegant, energetic picture happily devoid of the modern penchant for either juvenile cynicism or ponderousness, not unlike (though more lighthearted than) Jean-Paul Rappenau's "The Horseman on the Roof" (1995).

The hero of the piece--which, if you're in an operatic mood, could be described as an odd combination of "Otello" and "Rigoletto"--is Legardere (Daniel Auteuil), a happy-go-lucky orphan trained in fencing and acrobatics by a couple of kindly connivers. His prowess with the sword comes to the attention of the flippantly flawless Duke of Nevers (Vincent Perez), who takes him on as a trusted aide although Legardere had been hired to assassinate him. In this capacity he accompanies his new master on a ride to Caylus, where the duke intends to wed his love Blanche (Claire Nebout), who--he's only just learned--has presented him with a child and potential heir. The duo is pursued, however, by a group of vicious brigands in the employ of Nevers' oily cousin Gonzague (Fabrice Luchini), who desires both Blanche and the duke's fortune, with which he wishes to finance a speculative Mississippi land scheme. The marriage takes place, but soon the duke is dead, his new wife carted off, and Legardere on the run with the baby, a girl named Aurore. After faking their deaths, Legardere and the infant take up with a travelling theatrical troupe, with whom, sixteen years later, they return to Paris and the surrogate father prepares his revenge. The scheme involves lots of swordplay, investment chicanery, the liberation of the imprisoned Blanche, the revelation of an abiding love, and the presence of a mysterious hunchback--the "bossu" of Feval's title.

The plot of "On Guard" is circuitous and episodic, with lots of climaxes and hair-breadth escapes--the novel, after all, was first printed serially in a newspaper (and successfully dramatized by Feval himself in 1863)--but though the twists will hardly come as shocks, there's an air of comfortable predictability about it all, and it's played and staged with such elan that the result is completely winning. The cast seems to be having a wonderful time, and their joy is infectious. Auteuil, whose range is apparently limitless, comes across as too old in the initial reels, but in the latter sections he's perfect, and he seizes on the opportunity for masquerade the last reels provide with glee. Perez makes an effortlessly dashing duke, and Luchini a deliciously sniveling villain; Marie Gillain is fetching as the teenaged Aurore, and Nebout radiant as Blanche. The film is crammed with memorable supporting turns from the likes of Philippe Noiret (as the regent Philippe of Orleans--the story is set during the minority of King Louis XV), Yann Collette (as Gonzague's vile henchman) and Charlie Nelson (as the villain's hunchbacked clerk); even the extras have been chosen for their wonderful period look. Of course much of the success of the ambience is due to Bernard Vezat's exquisite art direction, Christian Gasc's costume design and the gorgeous cinematography by Jean-Francois Robin, which gives the interiors a luminous glow and captures the wide country vistas and bustling town scenes with unerring precision: many frames would make lovely still photos. Philippe Sarde contributes a charming score, much of it a reworking of eighteenth and nineteenth-century pieces, and the fight choreography by Michel Carliez is outstanding and fun.

But it's the sense of sheer exuberance and unabashed romanticism that the director brings to the material that gives "On Guard" such charm. You might describe it as the sort of jovial epic they don't make any more, except in this case de Broca, happily, has. 


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