Louis de Funès (The wing or the thigh): how was the actor able to play despite his fragile health?

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The time has come to sit down to eat. On the menu this Thursday, December 22, France 3 broadcasts The wing or the thigh, written and directed by Claude Zidi. When it was released in cinemas on October 27, 1976, we find the duo of actors Louis de Funès and Coluche who marked several generations of spectators over television reruns.

As a reminder, The wing or the thigh follows the rivalry between two visions of French cuisine. “Charles Duchemin, famous culinary critic, is preparing the new edition of his gastronomic guide. Accompanied by his son, who prefers the circus and the mime to all this culinary masquerade, Duchemin attacks the empire of the king of the kitchen “all made’: Tricatel,” the film’s synopsis reads. While the hero embodied by Louis de Funès is a defender of traditional quality cuisine, his rival played by Julien Guiomar wants to innovate with fast and industrial restaurants in France.

A comedy inspired by a social subject on junk food, not without recalling some cultural references. If the character of Tricatel is a caricature of the industrialist Jacques Borel (pioneer of fast food and roadside restaurants in France), the character of Louis de Funès draws much inspiration from the institutional Michelin Guide which awards its stars to establishments.

However, the famous Gendarme of Saint-Tropez almost never played in Claude Zidi’s film. Before filming, Louis de Funès suffered a double heart attack in March 1975. After two months of convalescence and a year of inactivity, the risk was far too high to bring the actor back to the film sets. Contacted by the French director, the actor agrees to play in the film with very close supervision.

In his book Louis de Funès, de A à Z, published by Gründ editions in 2020, the biographer Bertrand Dicale reveals this anecdote. “The agreement with the insurance company which covers Louis de Funès, despite his recent heart problems, requires exceptional precautions on the set. In particular, the working days must be reduced”.

Among the members of the team present on the set, Jean-Jacques Beineix, first assistant of the film at the time, was in charge of the work plan. And, the task was going to be more difficult than expected for the future filmmaker, as the journalist tells us. “Each sequence must be broken up so that the main actor does not shoot more than two and a half hours at a time; he must be given time for a daily nap, not shoot at night…”, he writes in detail in his book. Some scenes were also shot without Coluche’s sidekick.

Claude Zidi’s film will be the second best box office success of 1976 with more than 5.84 million cinema admissions in France. 46 years after its release, the famous comedy will plunge the greatest moviegoers into nostalgia for the holiday season.