In the opening minutes of this film, we witness a man in a phone booth being eaten by a shark. That alone would have been enough to win me over. The over-the-top spy movie sort-of-spoof is entertaining as all get-out, but it possibly would have grown tiresome after a while. Once we realize, however, that all the super-spy silliness is the imagination of a fiction writer, the movie becomes something else.
François Merlin writes potboiler spy novels about Bob St. Clair, who is his wish fulfillment self-insertion character. He has a frustrating life, struggling to make ends meet and wishing he could write something that's actually good instead of all the, as he considers it, trash. Many of the characters in his real life show up as characters in his novels. His publisher and other "enemies" turn up as villains, which St. Clair either lazily dispenses with or, in the case of the publisher/supervillain, struggles to overcome repeatedly over the course of several novels. And his beautiful upstairs neighbor Christine appears in his latest book as his love interest (and, if memory serves, fellow spy).
What's cool about this film is watching Merlin deal with his real life problems in the pages of his novels. For example, Christine thinks his books are fascinating from a sociological standpoint, because she's interested in why people (including herself) are so compelled by such tripe. This kind of hurts Merlin's pride, even though he agrees about their quality, because he wants to be a real writer and genuinely impress her (and probably in part because he identifies with St. Clair in a way, however ridiculously he is portrayed). His back-and-forth about whether to write St. Clair as the perfect, suave superspy or make him a bumbling idiot comes and goes, depending on his confidence in what Christine thinks of him.
Jean-Paul Belmondo is fantastic (and fantastically gorgeous) here in the dual role of Merlin and St. Clair. And you dudes can enjoy the charms of a young Jacqueline Bisset. And loads of making fun of spy movies and writers. This was one of my favorite cracktastic vintage titles these many BNATs.