Some films have a good personality. Like a close friend, they make you smile and you enjoy spending time with them. Who’s Got The Black Box is one of those films. It may have a thin story, and could be considered light on for action and laugh out loud jokes, but none-the-less it is one of those films that is easy to immerse yourself in, and enjoy. For those who have seen the Pathfinder Entertainment DVD cover, and have noticed the intense red packaging, which features a monochrome hero with one arm wrapped around Jean Seberg and the other holding a machine gun, don’t panic. The film is nowhere near that intense or violent. It is essentially a gentle paced spy comedy from French film-maker Claude Chabrol. Chabrol had previously ventured into spy territory with Le Tigre Aime La Chair Fraiche (The Tiger Likes Fresh Meat) and Le Tigre Se Parfume A La Dynamite (Our Agent Tiger), both featuring Roger Hanin as agent Louis Rapiere.
Black Box opens with the self proclaimed ‘World’s Greatest Magician,’ Socrates (Steve Eckart) attempting to cross the border into Greece. As his vehicle is inspected at customs, the officials find a small black box filled with electronic components.
The discovery is reported back through the chain of command. When the heads of OTAN hear about the device, they fly into a panic and demand to know what it does. (I am sure you have worked out, that OTAN is NATO backwards!)
The magician is forced to talk. That is, he is taken to a small room and pummelled to within an inch of his life by a burly man wearing sunglasses. Finally the magician breaks his silence. He confesses that he has already brought fifteen of the little black boxes into Greece. And that other couriers have brought in more.
And what does the black box do? Each black box interferes with radar and launch of OTAN missiles. Before the authorities can find out anything else, the magician swallows a cyanide capsule.
Sharps (Michel Bouquet), the local head of the CIA in the Mediterranean is an inept fool. He doesn’t believe that there are any more black boxes. But he does assign two agents to look into it. The first agent is Dex (Maurice Ronet) who is experienced and professional. The other agent is Robert Ford (Christian Marquand), who is a dreamer.
Sharps has another reason to send away Ford. Ford has a beautiful wife, Shanny (Jean Seberg), and while he is away on assignment, Sharps, hoping to instigate an affair, moves in on her.
Ford, whose ideas are never taken seriously, stumbles onto a lead and finds out who is behind the black boxes. Rather than return to headquarters, he returns home and celebrates his success with Shanny. As she leaves the room to get a bottle of Champagne, Robert is assassinated. She returns to the bedroom and finds him dead. In turn, she is hit from behind and rendered unconscious. The killer then puts the murder weapon, a gun, in her hand. He also gets her other hand and drags her fingernails down her murdered husbands chest, to indicate that there was a struggle.
The evidence is stacked heavily against Shanny and she is imprisoned. Naturally, the lecherous Sharps arranges for her to be released. Now free, she sets off to find out who killed Robert, and the truth about the black boxes. Along the way she teams up with Robert’s partner, Dex, who is unsure if he should trust Shanny. All the clichés are in place, for slick little spy thriller.
Jean Seberg is likeable in the role of Shanny, but doesn’t quite ooze the sex-appeal required for the role. In places, it is hard to believe that men, both good and bad, are throwing themselves at her. Then again, that may just be the nature of the ‘dirty old men’ in the film. They’d throw themselves at anything in a skirt.
The weaknesses of the film are a couple of uneven comedy sequences, which ruin the flow of the film, and the music in some places. The music generally is fairly unobtrusive, and considering the setting, it does feature some Greek styling. But it does get annoying when the music gets loud and fast. It is supposed to sound Greek and exotic, but instead sounds like music for a slapstick routine. Obviously it does not reflect the action taking place on the screen, and would probably be more suited to a Benny Hill skit.
The film, as I mentioned at the outset is very likeable, without being brilliant. The star of the film is the cinematography, which is very good and utilises the Mediterranean backdrop to great effect. It is a warm film; a friendly film. It is not going to change your life, and it is not going to end up on your list of favourite films of all time, but if you take the time to watch it, you are in for a pleasant ninety minutes.