Tintin, Kino Lorber

French Pop Cinema of the 1960s Brings Tintin to Life Twice Over

Tintin is one of the secret engines of 20th Century pop culture in Europe and Hollywood, as shown in these James Bond-like movies for the elementary school crowd.

Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece / Tintin and the Blue Oranges
Jean-Jacques Vierne / Philippe Condroyer
Kino Lorber
25 April 2023

Just in case you thought all French cinema of the 1960s was chic New Wave hipness, the country’s commercial studios continued to pump out its normal fare. Two unexpected nuggets of this pop cinema have been issued as a Blu-ray double feature from Kino Lorber. Arriving for the first time on home video in Region 1 are the two Tintin adventures that brought their comic strip hero to the world of live-action.

Tintin and the Mystery
of the Golden Fleece
(Tintin et le mystère
de la toison d’or, 1961)

Director: Jean-Jacques Vierne

Tintin is a mysteriously blank and knickerbockered “boy reporter” who rocks a big blond cowlick over his forehead. We never learn a darn thing about him: his full name, his age, whether he has parents, whether he’s qualified as a reporter, or which newspaper he reports for. With his white terrier Snowy (Milou in French), who talks on rare occasions, Tintin travels the world with insouciance and even visits the moon. He makes it seem easy enough.

When Belgian artist Georges Remy, under the pseudonym Hergé, introduced Tintin in 1929, the boy’s adventures were largely slapstick satirical nonsense in the Soviet Union, an America full of gangsters and Indians, and an unflattering Belgian Congo. Remy learned to look back on these dire and unpromising collections of stereotypes with embarrassment and, in some cases, revised them. Fortunately, he developed a more complex and sympathetic narrative mastery, not to mention an influential “clear line” style, so that later stories become masterpieces of comedy and adventure with an ever larger cast of eccentric characters.

Although Tintin has been a major force in European pop culture, so much so that “Tintinology” is an academic arena, his profile has been much lower in the USA. When I was very young, European relatives sent me King Ottokar’s Scepter (1939), but I had to wait years before English translations of most of the series hit bookstores.

It’s not out of order to state that Tintin has something to do with the invention of characters like Indiana Jones. Steven Spielberg acknowledged as much when he made The Adventures of Tintin (2011) as a motion-capture 3D animated film. Spielberg has also acknowledged the influence of a French film he saw as a late teen, Philippe De Broca’s That Man from Rio (1964), which consciously channels the spirit of Tintin. In fact, De Broca told Spielberg about Tintin.

Beginning with a stop-motion film in 1947, French cinema has made several animated Tintin movies. The two films on Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray are the character’s only live-action films. They are very 1960s and very much children’s films. Heavy makeup is often used to make actors resemble their comics counterparts, and the visual composition offers the action in brightly colored “panels” without flourishes. The result is strong, bright, simple, naïve storytelling.

Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece opens with the mature set of characters living in the luxury of the huge Marlinspike Hall (Moulinsart in French), owned by the bearded, quick-tempered Captain Haddock (Georges Wilson). For reasons that never needed explaining in comics, Tintin lives there rent-free. Wouldn’t you? So does the brilliant, near-deaf Professor Calculus (Tournesol in French), played by Georges Loriot. There’s also a bald butler, Nestor (Max Elloy).

Haddock learns that a fellow sea captain has died and left him his barge, a dilapidated old tub. Haddock and Tintin go to Istanbul to claim it and then travel to Greece to solve the mystery of why someone is willing to offer so much money for the seemingly worthless boat and why they’re willing to commit murder for it – not that anyone actually dies.

The adventure wouldn’t be complete without daffy shenanigans from the twin detectives called Thomson and Thompson in English or Dupont and Dupond in French. Pedro and Pablo Gamonal play them with the required bowler hats, umbrellas, and bushy mustaches. Also appearing are veteran players Charles Vanel, Marcel Bozzuffi, and Dario Moreno.

The highly incidental narrative of Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece comprises one of those postcard-vacation movies so popular in the 1960s, and overall, it feels like a James Bond movie for the elementary school set. The subtitlers are familiar with the English equivalents of the names and catchphrases. The bouncy score is by André Popp, who lived up to his name with a very poppy career; he’s best known in English for the “space age” stereo album Delirium in Hi-Fi (1957).

Jean-Pierre Talbot looks uncannily like Tintin. He shows off martial arts moves in several scenes that imply acrobatic training. He jumps right into any action, whether it’s kicking a gun out of someone’s hand, climbing down the side of a castle, scuba diving in his blue skivvies, or hijacking a helicopter. He thinks nothing of hopping on somebody else’s handy motorcycle to chase some bad guys around a winding mountain road. Thomson and Thompson get punished for that theft.

According to Wikipedia, Talbot came by his resemblance to Tintin naturally, and became friends with Hergé over it. He wasn’t yet 20 when he starred in Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece. He repeated his role in the sequel; they’re his only two film roles.

Tintin and the Blue Oranges
(Tintin et les oranges bleues, 1964)

Director: Philippe Condroyer

The story goes that De Broca was asked to make a Tintin movie and chose to make That Man from Rio in the same vein instead. The film he was asked to make is probably Tintin and the Blue Oranges, a more fanciful adventure than the previous Tintin outing. It more prominently uses Professor Calculus, who’s now played by prolific Spanish actor Félix Fernández. We can’t tell the difference with the makeup as thick as it is on the previous film’s actor. The same is true with Captain Haddock, now played by Jean Bouise. The twin detectives are here played by non-twins Franky Francois and André Marié, and again, it matters nothing.

Calculus writes and then promotes a book on one of those literary television shows they have in France. He appeals to scientists to tackle the problem of agricultural innovation. A Spanish colleague, Professor Zalamea (Ángel Álvarez) sends him some wonderful blue oranges that glow in the dark thanks to neutron bombardment. When it gets stolen under the noses of Tintin, Haddock, and Calculus, the trio travel to Valencia, where the addled Calculus promptly gets kidnapped.

Opera diva Bianca Castafiore (Jenny Orléans), one of Hergé’s most delightful characters, shows up out of the blue, as she does in the comics. She’s wooed by a wealthy Arab who turns out to be one of the bad guys. This tells us something about France’s uneasy relations with the rising Arab world and the era’s willingness to offer stereotypes of rich sheiks as handy cartoon villains. (I don’t mean to imply that the world has no dangerous wealthy oligarchs.)

Once again, the postcard-y locations serve as a big attraction. Speaking of totalitarians, the project was clearly approved by the Franco regime’s tourist board. Much footage is expended simply running around Valencia, with hundreds of bemused locals making it clear they’re not paid extras. Time is also spent avoiding the police, as though uniformed authority is obstructive and unwelcome. Hmm. Well, it’s a common trope in comedy.

This busy script is partly due to the input of René Goscinny, famous for creating the other two most popular Francophone comics heroes, Asterix and Lucky Luke. His collaboration on a Tintin film makes it a crossover phenomenon as if Mickey Spillane wrote for James Bond. The score is by Antoine Duhamel, a high-profile modernist and serialist who did lots of film work.

The director, Philippe Condroyer, comes up with many visual ideas and sight gags that improve cinematically on the first film, even though Tintin and the Blue Oranges probably has even more padding. The appeal to children is cemented by having a slew of Spanish urchins participate in the final free-for-all.

Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray has no extras, and they’d hardly serve any purpose. An English dub of Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece has been issued on DVD by the British Film Institute, but that option isn’t here. Tintin and the Blue Oranges is interesting in that Spanish people speak Spanish, and Arabs speak Arabic. Of course, all are subtitled in English, like the French dialogue, but it makes you wonder how French kids watched it. Did they ignore the other languages?