Monday, July 2, 2012

i SPY EUROSPY: Who's Got the Black Box?

Who’s Got the Black Box
Director: Claude Chabrol
Year 1967
Who’s Got the Black Box, AKA The Road to Corinth, is an interesting twist on the Eurospy formula, as it portrays a recently widowed wife of a spy as the main character of the story. Plunging into unfamiliar waters, the film still keeps the trademarks of the genre in tacked by flipping the scenario and letting its female lead play the role of secret agent. With its beautiful cast and mesmerizing locations, Who’s Got the Black Box is a spy entry that does things a little bit differently but still manages to never miss that outstanding espionage flavor that makes the genre so damn fun to watch.
The film follows a woman by the name of Shanny, who has been widowed after her undercover NATO security man husband is murdered in the line of duty. Determined to solve the mystery, Shanny discovers an intriguing plot that includes the jamming of radar installations in Greece by the use of small black boxes that have been hidden across the countryside. As Shanny begins to get closer to the answers, danger lurks its ugly head in the form of hired killers, assassins, and a persistent group of allies that only want her flown back to America where she will be safe from harm. Who’s Got the Black Box is an interesting espionage-filled tale that shows the strength and determination of a woman scorned, plus a plethora of gorgeous locations that really showcase the regions breathtaking landscapes. Let’s find out who’s got these damn black boxes already!

Jean Seberg plays the role of Shanny, the housewife turned super spy who goes above and beyond the call of duty in trying to uncover the murderers of her husband and the plot that got him in hot water and an early grave. Seberg looks amazing in this empowering role, and her coy and sympathetic portrayal of Shanny is hypnotic in its innocent presentation. What makes Seberg’s character so endearing is that she is persistent to the last, never giving up on her perilous quest to find answers, even if it delivers the same terrible fate as her husband. Shanny becomes something of a slippery son of a bitch as her sleuthing begins, seeing that every situation that she finds herself in, she miraculously manages to make it out unscathed. What’s most interesting about these harrowing escapes is that they seem to occur out of sheer luck, making Seberg’s unlikely agent appear as a somewhat clumsy yet highly entertaining and sexy super spy. The combination is inspiring and I had a blast in trying to anticipate her next outrageous move.
The rest of the cast plays second fiddle to Seberg’s Shanny character, but they still leave a lasting impression that helps build the world of this engaging Eurospy flick. Christian Marguand plays the role of Robert Ford, Shanny’s husband and the set-piece that propels this whole wacky adventure into motion. His death thrusts Shanny into the intriguing world of the spies and Christian does a great job for the short time that he’s on screen. Taking his place in the male spy role is Maurice Ronet who plays the character of Dex. Dex’s role in the film is to keep Shanny in check, trying admirably to thwart her many attempts of escape, but failing on multiple occasions. Ronet takes on the task of babysitting Shanny with great style coming off mostly as an arrogant know-it-all, but eventually morphing into the caring leading-man role as he attempts to aid Shanny on her personal mission for redemption and closure. Lastly is Michel Bouquet as Sharps, the boss of the two secret agents. Sharps has a bit of a crush on the lovely Shanny and uses his leverage in ever way possible to annoy Shanny to no end. His character is quite strange, coming off as a kid with a crush whose only bright idea is to torment the person that he has affections for. Bouquet takes on this silly role in stride and really owns the title of biggest creep of the film, plus the dude has a smile that ignites countless awkward moments between Seberg’s Shanny character and himself that will make you cringe.

Now the nuts and bolts of the story comes down to one simple thing, there are a number of black boxes that are scattered throughout Greece that disrupt radar transitions, disabling any and all missile installations, and it’s up to someone to stop this nefarious plot before something goes terribly wrong. With Shanny taking the burden of this plight onto herself, the anticipation that she might meet her demise during this spontaneous mission is highly relevant as the odds are stacked quite a bit against her favor. With this chunk of the narrative front and center, it allows the film to throw a plethora of entertaining moments and obstacles in front of Shanny’s path in order to see how she deals with life as a spy. Across the picturesque landscape of Greece and its breathtaking island vistas, Shanny is confronted with a stylish assassin who looks like he’s a lost member of some barbershop quartet, a group of thugs who think it’s funny to dangle a woman over a cliff by use of a crane, a large hitman who lives in a secret lair inside a mausoleum, and a young truck driver who foolishly decides to lend Shanny a hand and gets poorly rewarded for it. The obstacles are many and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
All in all the film allows itself to walk the fine line between thriller and comedy, always placing its heroine in harms way, but presenting these hair-raising moments in a tongue and cheek way that almost feels whimsical in its presentation. Take the final moments of this film for instance, where Shanny is confronted with the mastermind behind this nefarious and genius plot. She comes face to face with this fiend as he is enjoying his own personal buffet on a private island, surrounded by broken ruins and rows of damaged columns from where a great city must have once stood. This silly scene only delves deeper into ludicrousness when we witness this pig of a man sloppily devour a few morsels of food before going off on a tangent about how great his plans are and how impossible it will be to stop him. A moment later the man is stopped by a not so clever ploy by Shanny that really makes your head spin in bewilderment, but ultimately manages to entertain in its ludicrous results and the brutal way in which the villain meets his demise. Ultimately the film is a fun ride that showcases some beautiful scenery, a vivacious female lead, and an interesting series of moments that make for an enjoyable viewing.

Who’s Got the Black Box is a Eurospy film that, while isn’t the best thing to come out of the genre, still manages to make a spirited attempt at doing something new with the old tried and true formula. The decision to make Shanny’s character the centerpiece of the film is truly inspired, and her determination and headstrong fortitude is what really propels this narrative along and into some interesting territory. Jean Seberg does an amazing job with the material and her innocent nature and portrayal of Shanny, combined with her inexperience within the spy realm, is enduring to the last. You can’t help but cheer her along as she tackles one overwhelming situation after another, and you also can’t deny how amazing she looks in this film.
The rest of the cast does their job to the letter, making sure to fill out the roles they are given and brighten up the flavor of the fictional espionage landscape that they are placed in. From the zany killers, to the trained spies, to the inclusion of a magician revolutionary of all things, the film has plenty of entertaining characters to introduce as the film moves along, and their implications to the plot are as equally engaging as you’d expect them to be. If you go into this film hoping to be presented with a run of the mill spy outing then you might be sorely disappointed, because what this film attempts to do is bring a more personal story to the forefront. The focus is on Shanny and Shanny alone, spending a great deal of action free moments with her character in order for us to familiarize ourselves with the situation that she is in and the overwhelming sense that she is in way over her head. I rather enjoyed this approach, and it was nice to see this other side of the Eurospy film. The best way to describe this movie would be to imagine what would happen if James Bond was killed during one of his missions and his current femme fatale took his place and tried to take down the bad guys. It’s an intriguing idea and I think the film pulled it off exceptionally well. Check out Who’s Got the Black Box if you’re in need of a twist on the genre of super spies. This film is one hell of an…..

Is this your black box you sneaky shit?

Hello? Get me out of this freakin thing!

You're not so funny now magic man.

Humminah... humminah.... humminah!

Well at least there's plenty of space to park.

One of the most persistent barbershop quartets in the business.

Always accessorize before you're about to kill.

When I said give me head... that's not what I meant.

What a shitty place for a picnic.

That asshole's staring at the back of my head again isn't he?

The Sergeant hates peeping toms.

Just ignore him and maybe he'll go away.

Who doesn't read Woman Magazine? It's the best!

What is this a speck of dust? Well, time to kill the maid.

This blind date went serisouly wrong.

Peek-a-boo you fuck you!

The spy who loved flowers... a little too much.

A pig eating a pig. You cannibalistic bastard you!

Weeeeee! What a way to go!

Get a room you two!


  1. Thanks for your review of this underrated gem!

  2. No problem George! I've just got to spread the love on these rare Eurospy gems. They're so much damn fun!

  3. I just bought this movie yesterday. It starts a little slowly but picks up in the second half. Jean, the Barbershop henchman and the backdrop are the best things about it.

  4. Yeah Dave, it's a rather calm spy flick that, like you said, picks up to speed as things begin to escalate. The backdrop of Greece is a thing of beauty.