Danièle Thompson: “La Grande Vadrouille has ennobled French comedy”

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The big mop
Valoria Films

The co-screenwriter of the film and daughter of Gérard Oury takes a look at the retro.

The big mop returns tonight at 9 p.m. on France 2. End of 2016, First had met Danielle Thompson to evoke the crazy success of this comedy. An interview to (re) read to wait…

Interview of December 8, 2016. The big mop was released in French theaters 50 years ago to the day. A few months ago we met Danielle Thompsonco-writer of the film and daughter of Gerard Ouryto evoke the heritage of this film belonging to the heritage of French cinema.

I saw the film again yesterday with children aged 8 and 12, they had never seen it, they loved it.

Did you watch it on a nice screen?

Yes, yes, a very large TV…

And that was the blu-ray?

Yes, the HD restoration is superb.

Ah yes, yes it gives all its cachet to the film. I’m asking you that because it’s a film that it’s important to discover in optimal projection conditions. It’s good that the children could see it like that.

The paradox is that we are really very numerous to have seen it and seen it again on TVs with cathode ray tubes. And to have never seen it in the cinema…

And yes, TV is a double-edged sword, huh. The film continues to live thanks to her but obviously she distorts it. I try to go see again The big mop to the cinema whenever the opportunity presents itself. There had been a memorable screening at the Paris Opera at the time of the release of the DVD box which included the film and the Corniaud. And seeing the opera scene on a giant screen inside that same opera house, I can tell you, it’s dizzying (laughs). But finally the survival of films is television.

La Grande vadrouille and Intouchables at the top of the 20 favorite films of the French

Except that now there are more and more TV channels, that the films are less highlighted, and that suddenly we ask ourselves questions about the posterity of The big mop among younger generations.

And yes it is the era of the series. It’s like that and it’s so much the better, firstly because these series are very good, and they are designed for these screens. But yes, you have to get used to it The big mop somehow becomes an “old movie”. You’re here because he’s celebrating his 50th birthday, aren’t you? (smiles). Maybe TV will rebroadcast it less, it will be seen less there, maybe even soon we will only see it in reruns, where moviegoers meet Why not… And then the little ones, did they stay until the end?

Ah yes, stuck.
(laughs) It was one of my father’s great joys to see that until the end of his life his films were loved by the younger generations. He couldn’t believe it. And you hadn’t seen him for how long?

A little over fifteen I would say. And, it’s anecdotal, but I was convinced it was a Gaumont film, when not at all…

Oh no, the Gaumont magnifying the film precisely! My father and Alain Poiré (flagship producer of Gaumont at the time) were very good friends, Poiré had moreover produced his first films, but he did not want to follow him on Corniaud, at least not with the conditions imposed by my father. It was Robert Dorfmann, a very daredevil independent, who agreed to produce the project. As a result, they have 11 million admissions, and since you don’t change a winning team, my father is doing it again with Dorfmann, de Funès and Bourvil for The big mop. And they make 17…

After that, Alain Poiré, immediately put the hook back on your father to The brain.

Yes, and they will make a few more sets, including Megalomania. But Poiré also missed out on Rabbi Jacob ! When my father told him “I wrote a comedy about the Hasidic rabbis”, the subject frightened him.

It surprised me, moreover, when I saw La Grande Vadrouille again, how the film never broached the Jewish question, nor that of collaboration. Were there taboos on this subject during the writing?

What we already knew was that it was obviously not a film about deportation… Our concern, since there had been few comedies about the war, was to know if it was wrong shock the French that we laugh with the Germans and all this dark period which had ended barely twenty years earlier. What amused us was telling the story of these two average French people who are neither heroes nor collaborators – which is what the vast majority of people were during the war. I believe that this choice is the great key to the popularity of the film, even today. We told the story of two people who are not ready to become heroes but who will eventually become one by force of circumstance. One of our big role models was To Be Or Not To Be, but we couldn’t afford to go as far as Lubitsch. All the jokes about Concentration-Camp Ehrhardt, Lubitsch can make them because we’re in 42 and he still doesn’t know anything about the horror of the camps. We knew. And it was too close to us. My father, moreover, waited fifteen years to tackle head-on what was darkest in this period, with Ace of Aces

50 years later, what legacy do you think has left The big mop in popular French cinema?

I think that somehow “ennobled” French comedy. Before Corniaud and The big mop, comedies were always “small films” in black and white. This was the first time in France that a director asked aesthetic questions in the context of a film intended to make people laugh. We still had Claude Renoir in the photo, sublime sets, incredible exteriors, George Auric in the music… We were also influenced by American cartoons, and all the crazy and colorful visual ideas that go with it, it was not common at that time, huh. In short, for me the legacy of The big mop that’s it: a certain degree of ambition for all the comedies that were made afterwards. Claude Zidi was one of his heirs there, for example…

Well, not all of Zidi’s films, though…

Well, yes, not all the movies, but in fact… (silence) In fact there were few heirs.

It’s funny, that’s what we also said to ourselves: one of the most popular films in French cinema has not been widely seen. Ten years after him, all comedies are starting to look like TV and sound cheap again.

The production system was already beginning to change, too. Independent producers were beginning to become rarer. And then people realized that it was enough to put De Funès in front of a camera to bring back at least three million French people to cinemas. It made easy money. So yes, it’s going downhill a bit, you have to admit. It’s a shame because if The big mop continues to last, it is because visually it is still as magnificent, imposing, impressive. When I see him again, I tell myself that my father got everything he wanted on this film. All. He was lucky that he was allowed this madness, but he knew how to make a great film out of it.

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Trailer of The big mop :

La Grande Vadrouille: 5 little-known anecdotes about Gérard Oury’s cult comedy

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