Who's Got The Black Box?

  • 1967
  • Movie
  • PG
  • Comedy, Thriller

Jean Seberg is at her most alluring in Claude Chabrol's LA ROUTE DE CORINTHE, a spoofy spy-lark filmed in Greece that was originally released in the US in a cut, dubbed, and ridiculousy retitled version called WHO'S GOT THE BLACK BOX?, that foolishly tried to turn it into a straight spy thriller. While investigating the source of 15 mysterious black boxes...read more

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Jean Seberg is at her most alluring in Claude Chabrol's LA ROUTE DE CORINTHE, a spoofy spy-lark filmed in Greece that was originally released in the US in a cut, dubbed, and ridiculousy retitled version called WHO'S GOT THE BLACK BOX?, that foolishly tried to turn it into a straight spy

thriller.

While investigating the source of 15 mysterious black boxes which are jamming American radar installations in Greece, NATO security officer Robert Ford (Christian Marquand) receives information from a man named Alcibiades (Claude Chabrol) to investigate a marble works factory. Ford is subsequently

killed and his wife Shanny (Jean Seberg) is framed for his murder and arrested. While in prison, Shanny is visited by Alcibiades, disguised as a priest, who asks for $1,000 to give her information. Robert's superior, Sharps (Michel Bouquet), gains Shanny's release, but when she spurns his

advances, he gives her three days to leave the country. Sharps assigns Robert's ex-partner Dex (Maurice Ronet) to guard Shanny, but she gets away from him and meets Alcibiades, who is stabbed to death after telling her that Skolikides (Saro Urzi), the marble works owner, is the criminal

mastermind.

Shanny is found by Dex, but she convinces him to search the marble works with her and they discover the black boxes hidden inside the empty heads of statues. Dex alerts Sharps, but a police search of the marble works the next day yields nothing. Sharps escorts Shanny to the airport, but she gives

him the slip and sends a message to Dex to meet her at a cemetery. Dex arrives just as Shanny is being kidnapped by Skolikides' men, who take her by boat to his island hideout. Dex follows by helicopter and shoots Skolikides just as he is about to kill Shanny. Sharps takes credit for the

successful operation, and Shanny and Dex fly away together.

Made at the height of the 1960s James Bond/espionage movie craze, WHO'S GOT THE BLACK BOX? is not so much a parody as it is a droll deconstruction of the genre, offering up a playful pastiche of everything from THE PERILS OF PAULINE (1914) to NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) to the spate of

Bond/Flint/Helm films proliferating at the time. Demonstrating how much fun can be had from subverting the wildly improbable plot twists and unlikely events which are typical of spy capers, Chabrol delights in turning cliches inside out: thus, a prologue (originally cut in the US) where a mad

magician smuggles a black box next to some bunnies in his car, then magically produces a cigar and a cyanide tablet and kills himself while being tortured; an effete assassin who wears a clownish straw hat, white gloves, and a carnation; the constant appearance of bearded Greek orthodox priests,

some of whom are real and others who are spies and killers; the hilarious scene where Shanny has to raise money for Alcibiades and allows herself to be picked up by an old lech who shows her a softcore, black-and-white porno loop in the back of his limo, causing her to bat her eyes in mock,

silent-screen style astonishment; an obese, bowler-hatted, black-clad Oliver Hardy lookalike working for Skolikides who actually turns out to be a woman; and the surreal serial-like finale with Shanny chained to a handcart on tracks overlooking the ocean amidst the backdrop of an ancient Greek

temple.

While indulging in some amusing visual conceits, such as the frequent use of extreme overhead and aerial long shots to show the absurdity of the bizarre events, and draining the sets and costumes of all primary colors except for Shanny's red and green dresses in order to accentuate Jean Seberg's

dazzling blonde hair and blue eyes, Chabrol skillfully treads a fine line between mockery and traditional action. There are the usual shootouts, daring rescues, gadgets (including binocular sunglasses, and a mausoleum with a telephone!), and gorgeously photographed exotic locales, along with

allusions to Greek myth and tragedy (sawing open the statue of Aphrodite's head to reveal the black box; and the name of Alcibiades, who was the Athenian general condemned for mutilating statues of Hermes). The primary influence, of course, is Hitchcock, as the black boxes are merely MacGuffins,

and the plot inverts the premise of NORTH BY NORTHWEST by having Shanny (a prototypical Hitchockian cool blonde) on the run for a murder she didn't commit while being mixed up in espionage. Seberg never looked better and delivers intentionally silly dialogue like "Sometimes I too suffer from

solitude's chill grin" with a straight face, albeit with her tongue in cheek, and in perfect nonaccented French. The other performances are equally fine, particularly the incomparably smug and oily Michel Bouquet as Sharps, and Chabrol himself in a burlesque cameo as the buffoonish Alcibiades.

Although it's a relatively lightweight film from what's considered to be Chabrol's "commercial" period, it offers nothing but pleasure and is extremely accomplished. (Violence, sexual situations.)

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  • Rating: PG
  • Review: Jean Seberg is at her most alluring in Claude Chabrol's LA ROUTE DE CORINTHE, a spoofy spy-lark filmed in Greece that was originally released in the US in a cut, dubbed, and ridiculousy retitled version called WHO'S GOT THE BLACK BOX?, that foolishly tried… (more)

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