Le Gorille vous salue bien (The Mask of the Gorilla). 1958. France. Directed by Bernard Borderie. Written by Jacues Robert, from a novel by Antoine Dominique. With Lino Ventura, Charles Vanel, Pierre Dux, Bella Darvi, Rene Lefevre. In French; English subtitles. 35mm. 90 min.
After steadily rising through supporting roles in the 1950s, Ventura made his official debut as a headliner, identified only as “The Gorilla” in the posters and opening credits, in this klutzy but amiable French programmer. The character, an undercover agent for a super-secret government intelligence agency headed by “The Old Man” (the venerable Charles Vanel), seems based on Ventura’s wrestling background—he wears double-breasted suits with broad shoulder pads and tosses around opponents as if they were sandbags (which, in many cases, they clearly are). For director Bernard Borderie, who had successfully launched the Lemmy Caution series with star Eddie Constantine, the film was meant to be the first in a series, but Ventura, who had already outgrown this kind of thing, wisely walked away after this initial episode.