"The Good and the Bad," a recent Claude Lelouch import now at the K-B Janus, begins with a dire inscription: "No one is all good or bad; everything is relative." But "The Good and the Bad" isn't relative; it's just bad.
Few filmmakers have specialized in chasing their own tails as blithely as Lelouch, but "The Good and the Bad" seems the most pointless melodramatic run-around he's organized so far. The story commences in paris in the mid-'30s and terminates there approximately 10 years later, just after the liberation, without accomplishing anything of dramatic consequence. Having dithered away 100 minutes or so neglecting to clarify or resolve the presumed conflicts between his presumed antagonists, Lelouch has the hilarious presumption to ask us to wait for a sequel in order to find out what becomes everyone.
Jacques Dutrone, a distinctively low-key young actor who may be new to Washington audiences (he has one of the leads in a fine Claude Sautet film. "Mado" which has yet to be acquired by a distributor), appears as Lelouch's ironical notion of the "fogood" guy, an auto mechanic who drifts into cute auto thefs and bank stick-ups. Bruno Cremer, last seen running futile errands for William Friedkin in "Sorcerer," appears as the equally unsatisfactory "bad guy, a police official. Through a far fetched and trumped-up sequence of events, both characters end up heroes of the Resistance, a twist of fate that's especially difficult to understand in the case of the cop, who spends most of the Occupation cooperating closely with the Germans.
Dutrone has a wife and accomplice played by Marlene Jobert, Cremer has a wife played by Brigitte Fossey who gets very disapproving about his politics, which happen to resemble her parents' politics. Seeking Dutrone for a hijacking job, Cremer takes Jobert into custody and subjects her to a bit of torture by immersion until compelled to exchange her for Fossey, whom Dutrone promptly kidnaps.
This episode persuades the crook to become a patroit. It also persuades the ploliceman's wife to deceive her husband, whom she now loathes more than ever, by carrying on a clandestine affair with her recent abductor. When the Gestapo crashes one of their rendezvous, she tries to save her lover by denouncing her husband as a member of the Resistance.
This situation may have something to recommend it as bedroom farce, but the wartime setting seems a trifle too vicious to bring out the inherent comic flavor. Lelouch isn't all there in a basic storytelling sense if he imagines it's acceptable to formulate some antagonistic relationship without having the antagonists ultimately confront each other or without settling the issues that supposedly divide them.