“THE MAD ADVENTURES OF “RABBI” JACOB”— A Slapstick Comedy from 1973


A Slapstick Comedy from 1973

Amos Lassen

Comedy is everywhere in d Film Movement’s “The Mad Adventures of “Rabbi” Jacob, a 1973 cult classic filled with frantic disguises and mistaken identities. Victor Pivert (Louis de Funès) is a blustering, bigoted French factory owner who finds himself taken hostage by Mohammed Larbi Slimane (Claude Giraud), an Arab rebel leader. The two dress up as rabbis as they try to elude not only assassins from Slimane’s country, but also the police, who think Pivert is a murderer. Pivert ends up posing as Rabbi Jacob, a beloved figure who’s returned to France for his first visit after 30 years in the United States. Adding to the confusion are Pivert’s dentist-wife, who thinks her husband is leaving her for another woman, their daughter, who’s about to get married, and a Parisian neighborhood filled with people eager to celebrate the return of Rabbi Jacob (Marcel Dario).

The film was a showcase for de Funès, one of the most popular French comic actors of his time. Directed by French filmmaker Gerard Oury, the film was nominated for “Best Foreign Film” at the 1974 Golden Globe Awards. The National Board of Review said it is, “The funniest picture of the year,” with kudos to Louis de Funès as “in a class with Woody Allen”. 

Rabbi Jacob (Marcel Dalio) is one of the most loved rabbis of New York. One day, the French side of his family, the Schmolls, invite him to celebrate the bar mitzvah  of young David. He boards a plane to leave America for his birthland of France after more than 30 years of American life. His young friend Rabbi Samuel comes with him.

In Normandy, the rich businessman Victor Pivert (Louis de Funes) is also on his way since his daughter (Miou-Miou) is getting married the next day. Pivert is a dreadful man. He is bad-tempered, rude and a bigot, a racist against blacks, Jews, and pretty much all foreigners. He and his driver, Salomon (Henri Guybet) have an accident in which Pivert’s car (carrying a speed boat) flips upside-down into a lake. When Salomon, who is Jewish, refuses to help because the Sabbath  has just begun, Pivert fires him, much to Salomon’s happiness.

Arab revolutionist leader Mohamed Larbi Slimane (Claude Giraud) is kidnapped by killers who are working for his country’s government. The team takes him to an empty bubble gum factory… the same place where Victor Pivert goes to find assistance. Pivert involuntarily helps Slimane to flee, leaving two killers’ dead bodies behind them. The police, alerted by Salomon, find the bodies and accuse Pivert of the crime.

The next day, Slimane forces Pivert to go to Orly airport to catch a plane to Slimane’s country (if the revolution succeeds, he will become President). However, they are followed by a number of people including Germaine, Pivert’s wife, who thinks her husband is going to leave her for another woman; the killers; and the police commissioner Andréani, a zealous and overly suspicious cop who imagines that Pivert is the new Al Capone. Germaine is kidnapped by the revolutionaries and they use her own dentist equipment to interrogate her.

Trying to conceal his and Pivert’s identities, Slimane attacks two rabbis in the toilets, stealing their clothes and shaving their beards and their side locks . The disguises are perfect, and they are mistaken for Rabbi Jacob and Rabbi Samuel by the Schmoll family. The only one who recognizes Pivert (and Slimane) behind the disguise is Salomon, his former driver, who just happens to be a Schmoll nephew. But Pivert and Slimane are able to keep their identity secret and even manage to hold a sermon in Hebrew.  

After a few misunderstandings, Commissioner Andréani and his two inspectors are mistaken by the Jews for terrorists attempting to kill Rabbi Jacob. The real Rabbi Jacob arrives at Orly, where no one is waiting for him  and he is mistaken for Victor Pivert by the police, then by the killers. There is a chaotic, but sweeping happy ending with the revolution as a success and Slimane becoming President of the Republic Pivert’s daughter falls in love with Slimane and escapes her dull fiancé near the altar to go with him and Pivert learns tolerance towards other religions and cultures. Salomon and Slimane make peace with their respective Arab and Jewish colleagues, the Schmolls finally find the real Rabbi Jacob and the Piverts and the Schmolls go together feasting and celebrating.

I said a lot here but there is no way I could have said too much because too much happens. As slapstick as the film is, you will have great fun watching it.

 About Film Movement

 Founded in 2002 as one of the first-ever subscription film services with its DVD-of-the-Month club, Film Movement is now a North American distributor of award-winning independent and foreign films based in New York City. It has released more than 250 feature films and shorts culled from prestigious film festivals worldwide.  Film Movement’s theatrical releases include American independent films, documentaries, and foreign art house titles. Its catalog includes titles by directors such as Hirokazu Kore-eda, Maren Ade, Jessica Hausner, Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrzej Wajda, Diane Kurys, Ciro Guerra and Melanie Laurent. In 2015, Film Movement launched its reissue label Film Movement Classics, featuring new restorations released theatrically as well as on Blu-ray and DVD, including films by such noted directors as Eric Rohmer, Peter Greenaway, Bille August, Marleen Gorris, Takeshi Kitano, Arturo Ripstein, King Hu, Sergio Corbucci and Ettore Scola. For more information, please visit www.filmmovement.com. Visit www.filmmovementplus.com for more information about Film Movement Plus, the new subscription streaming service from Film Movement.

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