Where Are You From, Johnny?
This French film from 1963 is interesting
in a few ways though it never realizes its potential in any of them. In 1963
the French pop music scene was just beginning to take off. Over the next
few years it would explode with a number of terrific singers who would be
influenced certainly by the music happening in England and the USA, but that
also retained the Gallic penchant for lovely melodies and harmonies. Female
singers like Francoise Hardy, Jacqueline Taieb, France Gall, Marie Laforet,
Liz Brady and even Bardot were grouped into a what was termed the 'yé-yé
girls'. It is pure pop delivered in short bursts of song that I like to listen
to from time to time. Now two of the biggest singers during the 1960's were
Johnny Hallyday and Sylvie Vartan and both star in this film.
Hallyday had just gotten started in the singing business a few years before
and was being called the Elvis Presley of France though to me he looks much
more like James Dean if his face had been a little more elongated. Hallyday
became a French institution over the following decades until his death in
2017. Vartan was just getting started but within a few years would be a huge
star. The two of them got married in 1965 and stayed that way for 15 years.
So with both of them in the film I had expectations of a pop music film and
it begins that way with Johnny heading a rock band with Vartan also a singer.
Then on a dime it moves away from that as Johnny (his name in the film also)
crosses the mafia and has to get out of Paris quickly with the mafia after
him. Goodbye pop movie (though Hallyday takes his guitar with him and sings
a few songs along the way.
So now it is going to be a crime film right? Well, not really as the film
jumps from black and white into gorgeous color and lands in something like
the Ponderosa where men are rounding up cattle, riding horses, wresting cattle
to the ground and wearing cowboy hats. What the hell is going on? Unknown
to me, I guess there was an area in France that was still doing this back
in the 1960s and perhaps still are today. Johnny is back home after five
years away and is back in the saddle. It becomes Red River. With music that
sounds like all the music you have heard in Westerns. One of his friends
is even named Django! There are a few minor conflicts of jealousy about the
girl he left behind but mainly it is about rounding up cattle and this rather
amazing sport where they have bulls in something similar to a bullfighting
ring but instead of a matador they place rings on the bull's horns and young
men have to try and take them off while running for their lives.
Eventually Vartan shows up and is unknowingly followed by three gangsters
intent on killing Johnny. Oh the potential for a Sam Peckinpah bloodbath
- modern criminals against a bunch of cowboys on horses. Ah, if only I had
written the script it would have been 10 professional killers picked off
one by one with a final big bloody shoot-out but such was not the case!