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Koch Lorber presents

On Guard (1997)

"If you do not come to Lagard¸re, Lagard¸re will go to you!"- Lagard¸re (Daniel Auteuil)

Stars: Daniel Auteuil, Fabrice Luchini, Vincent Perez, Marie Gillain
Other Stars: Philippe Noiret, Claire Nebout
Director: Philippe de Broca

Manufacturer: Koch Lorber
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (numerous mildly bloody sword fights, brief male and female nudity, incestual overtones
Run Time: 02h:03m:16s
Release Date: 2004-03-09
Genre: historical adventure

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B BB-B+ C+


DVD Review

On Guard (originally known as Le Bossu or The Hunchback), based on an 1857 novel by Paul Féval, has been filmed on at least six other occasions, the most recent prior to this outing a 1960 production with Jean Marais as the lead. This latest version, a lavish, big-budget star vehicle for Daniel Auteuil, was nominated for nine César awards in France, winning for costume design. If you long for the movie-going days of old when swashbucklers were still a thriving genre, this will probably be to your liking, despite a handful of flaws.

Lagardère, an impetuous but talented young swordsman (Auteuil), challenges the Duke of Nevers (Vincent Perez) to a duel in order to see the Duke's reputedly unstoppable technique in action. The Duke defeats Lagardère, and they meet again soon after as Lagardère, seeking to ingratiate himself with the Duke, brings him a letter from Blanche de Caylus, the Duke's onetime lover. Nevers' cousin, Gonzague (Fabrice Luchini), has been hiding her previous letters, as he doesn't want the Duke to marry and beget an heir, as that would eliminate Gonzague from the inheritance picture. The letter reveals that Nevers indeed has a child, prompting his immediate departure to marry Blanche. Nevers decides to take along Lagardère, but Gonzague has plans of his own, namely to kill Nevers before he can marry Blanche and legitimize the child.

On the way to Blanche's father's estate, Nevers and Lagardère see Gonzague's approaching men. Lagardère urges Nevers on so that he may remain behind, and the Duke teaches Lagardère his unstoppable technique, but that isn't enough to prevent Nevers' murder at the hands of Gonzague. Lagardère stabs Gonzague in the hand, prompting the quote above. Lagardère then manages to escape with the child, and eventually finds shelter with a traveling theater troupe, where he and Aurore stay until he is ready to begin his revenge, not to mention placing Aurore back in her deserved place in society.

On Guard runs swiftly through its 123-minute length, perhaps almost too swiftly given the twists and turns of the plot. This may put off some viewers, as we are immersed in the story from the first frames. Part of this could perhaps be due to a general familiarity with the story in France, given the numerous adaptations, but that is speculation on my part. The swordfights are well-staged, though there is some jarring use of CG during a couple of occasions when the "unstoppable thrust" is used. The cast is excellent, though Auteuil is simply too old to play the young Lagardère; indeed, during the early portion of the film with Nevers, Lagardère has a moustache, making him look much older than the character should, and during the latter half of the story, the moustache is gone, making Auteuil look younger than he did early on. Luchini makes a splendid villain, not constantly, sneeringly evil, but with moments of humor and emotion framing his immense greed. Philippe Noiret has a supporting role as Nevers' cousin, the Duke of Orleans.

Some (most?) audiences may have trouble with the relationship that develops between the grown-up Aurore (Marie Gillain) and Lagardère; we know that he has raised her as his daughter during their time in hiding, and once he tells her that he isn't her real father, both fairly quickly drop parental-child feelings for those of a couple falling in love. I found this the most unbelievable aspect of the film, as I don't imagine too many men and their erstwhile daughters would be able to so easily forget their former roles and suddenly enter what will clearly be a sexual relationship. I and the friend I viewed the film with both found this element of the story a bit, well, creepy. That said, both leads are fun to watch, as is the film. Composer Philippe Sarde contributes a polished, stirring score.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: A generally okay if unspectacular image, a little softer than I would like. I haven't seen the French release to compare, but I could imagine the film looking better than it does here. The color scheme of red, brown, and tan does come through nicely, and fleshtones look pretty good. There is some smearing during fast camera movement, and detail in general could be better. This appears to be a PAL port; the box lists a 128-minute run time, but the film actually runs 123 minutes, indicating the dreaded 4% PAL speed-up.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The original French soundtrack is the only option here, and that worked fine for me. Presented both in Dolby Surround and Dolby 2.0, either option provides a satisfying experience. The surround track makes good, subtle use of the rear speakers. Both tracks showcase Philippe Sarde's score nicely.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Very Auntie Mary; trailer is prior to main menu loading and is skippable.
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Interviews with primary cast members (Auteuil, Luchini, Perez, Gillain, and de Broca; each is split into six chapters, viewable individually or as a group. Presented in fullscreen. Each lasts about 5 minutes.
  2. Photo gallery of 20 shots from the film, in no particular order.
  3. Behind the scenes footage, which simply is what it says: footage of the film shoot, minus any narration or description. Approximately nine minutes total.
Extras Review: The extras are more than I would have expected for a generally unknown film in the US, but by the same token, we aren't talking Criterion-level materials here, either. Of primary interest is a series of interviews with the main cast members and director, in which each answers the same unheard questions about their character, why they took the role, working with the other actors and director, and so on. Nothing of great import, but of interest if you're a fan of one of the actors or of the film itself. Each interview is so brief however, that little real depth is revealed in any one answer. Trailers for the both the French release and the international release are provided, though the two are almost identical. Both are presented in nonanamorphic widescreen. A photo gallery features a variety of shots from the film, slapped together without much rhyme or reason. Finally, behind-the-scenes footage is provided, which shows six different scenes being shot, without elaboration. This section lasts almost nine minutes.

Extras Grade: C+

Final Comments

A fun swashbuckler, filled with all the prerequisites: comedy, action, intrigue, revenge, and romance, with potential warning flags for those who might be offended by the father-daughter relationship. Not a perfect film by any means, but a solid, entertaining one for fans of the genre and French film.

Jeff Wilson 2005-04-22