aka … Adieu l’ami
On the subject of movies if you ask me to name something or more specifically someone that I’ve become aware of via French cinema, I’m most likely to bring up actor Alain Delon. Though I grew up in the English speaking province of Ontario, Canada, Mr. Delon came into my movie watching habits early on thanks to his appearance in a western titled Red Sun released in 1971. It starred my favorite tough guy of cinema, Charles Bronson. One couldn’t help but notice the slick, calm and oh so damned cool Delon as the bad guy opposite the craggy Bronson. For the record, Toshiro Mifune also starred, thus introducing me to both him and Delon, I’ve been a fan of each ever since. For those that have seen the film, I’m not sure looking back if it was my introduction to the talents of Ursula Andress, I may have already seen Dr. No and Hammer’s She by this point in time.
All of this brings us to the 1968 film Farewell Friend which I’ve selected as my contribution to the Vive Le France Blogathon kindly hosted by The Lady Eve’s Reel Life and Silver Screen Modes. The film was the first time that Delon shared the screen with Bronson whose popularity was about to surge overseas thanks to his appearance here followed by a certain Leone western.
Under the direction of Jean Herman, Farewell Friend puts the two leading men in comfortable territory. That of a heist film gone bad. The pair are initially seen arriving back in France after a tour of duty in Algiers has concluded. While Bronson is looking to continue on the battlefield as a mercenary for hire, Delon’s medical officer is looking to square a debt in Paris much to Bronson’s disappointment. Bronson needs a medical officer for a military operation he’s secured in the Congo.
As Bronson continues to hang around and goad Delon, our Frenchman has agreed to take the job of a company doctor at a big city firm thanks to his association with Olga Georges-Picot. She wants Delon to break into a safe and return some stolen bonds to get her out of a legal jam. He agrees in order to repay his debt to a fallen comrade in the field. So the idea is that while he’s giving all the lovely secretaries in the company a physical he’ll also be attempting to uncover the seven digit code for the company safe in the next room.
Seriously. Delon performing physicals on the company secretaries? I’ll bet that was one hell of a long line up at the casting directors office.
Things might be getting a bit plot heavy here and I’d rather not get into specifics but on Christmas Eve when the company shuts down, Delon, is to secretly stay back and attempt to crack the safe and return the bonds which will square him for the debt his conscience won’t let him forget. Not happening. Things go south when Bronson turns up and quickly realizes what Delon’s up to. He believes his French counterpart is after the two million dollars inside the vault and instantly cuts himself in for half. The pair will begrudgingly team up for the balance of the film in order to overcome a number of obstacles including becoming accidently locked in the room that holds the safe. Then there’s the murdered guard down the hall and when they do get inside the safe, there’s no money.
Yes these boys have been double crossed and left to take a serious rap. Time to get the hell out and clear their not so good names with the local Police Inspector played by Bernard Fresson. All the while refusing to admit they know each other ….. honor among thieves.
By this point in time, Alain Delon, was well versed in crime dramas having starred in features like Once a Thief and Le Samourai. He’d continue for a number of years forward in the genre with titles including The Sicilian Clan and No Way Out (aka Big Guns). Bronson on the other hand had been appearing in gangster films as far back as the early fifties. Even in comical films like Pat and Mike he’d turn up as a thug of some sort or play it serious in Big House U.S.A. or Crime Wave. Supposedly Richard Widmark and Jack Palance had turned down the co-starring role here and according to various sources including Citadel Press’ The Films of Charles Bronson it appears that Delon asked for Bronson as his American costar after seeing the film Machine Gun Kelly (1958) that had become popular overseas.
Also known under the title Honor Among Thieves thanks to an eventual VHS release in the 1980’s this title had initially proved to be a hard to find effort in the Bronson catalogue. Despite Delon having been introduced to North American audiences playing opposite the likes of Anthony Quinn, Dean Martin and Burt Lancaster, the film never found an official North American release, eventually being dumped to television and even then I don’t recall seeing it in the TV Guide growing up.
For his part, this was Bronson’s second film with the now famous mustache and the first of his “foreign” overseas ventures during the late 1960’s and early 70’s. The producer of Farewell Friend, Serge Silberman, would again utilize Bronson’s talents for the Hitchcock like thriller, Rider on the Rain. A film that has steadily gained a following since it’s release in 1970. Bronson would continue to work overseas in a number of films like Violent City, Cold Sweat and Lola before joining forces with Michael Winner on a succession of films that built on his reputation in North America. Death Wish being the most obvious title.
It’s unfortunate that Delon and Bronson never teamed for a third time on a North American project in the ensuing years. While Bronson stayed home, Delon did venture overseas to appear in North American backed projects like Scorpio and even The Concorde ’79. They had a good screen chemistry that warranted a third outing. Thankfully Farewell Friend turned up on DVD here in North America as a double bill from Wild East Productions in a complete cut as opposed to the Honor Among Thieves VHS tape I owned that trimmed over 20 minutes from the movie making it rather incoherent.
Fans of both leading men should take the time to hunt this one down (as well as their follow-up Red Sun). It’s something a little different in regards to Bronson while Delon sticks to his strengths.
Now please take the time to visit our hosts above to follow the links to all the other bloggers that have joined in the celebration of French cinema and see just who and what titles they may be spotlighting ….. Au revoir.