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Le Magnifique at 50. The unreleased treasures of a French soundtrack classic.

The music by Claude Bolling for the cult film starring Jean-Paul Belmondo's got the aura of a classic. Soundtrack archaeologist Stephane Lerouge talks us through the discovery of rare archive material and the score’s ultimate reissue on 2LP. 

Le Magnifique, 1973. Original still from the film ©️1973 Studiocanal.


Jean-Paul Belmondo and director Philippe de Broca were both fond of adventure, whimsy, and exoticism. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of their legendary film L’Homme de Rio, their partnership reunited in 1973 for Le Magnifique. The delirious comedy focused on the relationship between François Merlin (Belmondo), a prolific but broke and divorced author of cheap pulp novels, and his imaginary double and hero, secret agent Bob Saint-Clar. Reality and fiction start overlapping when Merlin meets and falls in love with his neighbour, sociology student Christine (Jacqueline Bisset) who, in the imagination of the author, turns into his paramour Tatiana. Merlin’s editor, the well off and pompous Pierre Charron (Vittorio Caprioli) turns instead into the secret agent’s villain. 

What at first came across as an extravagant parody of B-rated spy movies, fifty years on, is revered by directors of the new generation such as Michel Hazanavicius and Michel Gondry. "In my cinematic culture," explains Gondry, “Le Magnifique is a reference point, an objective milestone: it influenced me with its interplay between two worlds, dream and reality.”

Jean-Paul Belmondo is secret agent Bob Saint-Clar in Le Magnifique, 1973. Original still from the film Ⓒ 1973 Studiocanal.

Jean-Paul Belmondo is secret agent Bob Saint-Clar in Le Magnifique, 1973. 

French soundtrack archaeologist Stephane Lerouge, who curated the CAM Sugar 50th anniversary reissue of the score, explains “In terms of music, Le Magnifique marks the beginning of a fruitful collaboration between de Broca and the great Claude Bolling, a jazz and cinema man, then freshly acclaimed for the success of Borsalino.”

The challenge would stimulate his inspiration. “It was a balancing act,” recounted the composer. “Each universe had to be personalised, by writing a score on a tightrope between realism and fantasy.”  Unfolding between mariachis, romantic interludes, lively boleros, and nods to the scores of James Bond films, the lush music of Le Magnifique establishes Claude Bolling as the French counterpart to Henry Mancini, points out the curator.

As the film is restored in 4K, Larouge had the opportunity of diving into the CAM Sugar archive to source the score’s original master tapes, unearthing 14 among previously unreleased, rare and alternate takes. These include a surprising take of the Hammond groover ‘Pop Mod’. These add to the fully remastered original 12 tracks. A piano solo version of ‘Christine’ taken from the 2011 album Claude Bolling, Cinéma Piano Solo makes its vinyl debut, wrapping the double LP out. 


Jacqueline Bisset plays the double role of student Christine and Saint-Clar's paramore Tatiana.

Jacqueline Bisset plays the double role of student Christine and Saint-Clar's paramour Tatiana.  Original still from the film Ⓒ 1973 Studiocanal.

While the film retains the exoticism of the Brazilian-set L’Homme de Rio, it takes it further in cheekiness and extravagance. Simply consider the opulent and farcical white mobster suit of Belmondo, the tiger skin rugs or the hilarious scene in which the French actor takes a call on a red landline telephone while water skiing. Mixing the proverbial braggadocio and anarchic spirit of Belmondo with 1970s design and some of the undefiable staples of spy movies, Le Magnifique stood the test of time also thanks to its iconography.

It was as well at the core of the creative process Venezia-based graphic designer Michele Bellinaso (Lorenzo Mason Studio) took when reimagining the album artwork, which resulted in two different designs. One in white citing the original soundtrack cover, and one in black paying homage to the Bob Saint-Clar’s pulp paperbacks seen in the film. 

Rare archive photos from the film – some of which can be seen in this story – are housed in the gatefold, accompained by an exclusive interview with Claude Bolling, curated by Stephane Lerouge.

Le Magnifique 2LP, Claude Bolling

In the words of Larouge, all this makes the reissue “an essential edition to celebrate half a century of a very original score,  in which melancholy lurks behind fantasy and South American rhythms”. 


Le Magnifique, 1973. Original still from the film Ⓒ 1973 Studiocanal.

 Le Magnifique, 1973. Original still from the film Ⓒ 1973 Studiocanal.


Opening image: Le Magnifique, 1973.

Original still from the film Ⓒ 1973 Studiocanal.

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