As a sort of spoiled appetizer to tomorrow’s Film Club look at SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS, The Forgotten today tells the story of Preston Sturges’s last… what’s the opposite of a hurrah? Last boo? At any rate, THE FRENCH THEY ARE A FUNNY RACE, a title which seems to demand point-by-point rebuttal based on the contents of the film, is under analysis over at the Auteurs’ Notebook.
Archive for The Diaries of Major Thompson
Another one I should have listed in the previous post: Kurosawa’s MADADAYO. His final film as director. I loudly bemoaned the fact that it didn’t get a UK release at the time it was made, nor even after A.K.’s death. I was thrilled to finally get a copy. Then I failed to watch it. I look forward to getting Fellini’s last film, VOICE OF THE MOON, also denied a UK release, so I can fail to watch that too.
Here’s my list of films I’m aching to see (although whether I’ll watch them if I find them is apparently doubtful) –
1. THE DIARIES OF MAJOR THOMPSON. Preston Sturges’ last movie, described as “almost defiantly unfunny” by one biographer. But it’s hard to find anybody with a kind word for THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND either, and that one, though not prime Sturges by the furthest stretch of hyperbole, has a fair few laughs.
2. There are lots of Julien Duvivier films unavailable, or unavailable with subtitles. LA BELLE EQUIPE may be the most historically important one. And it’s got Jean Gabin in it.
3. L’AMORE. I’ve yet to really get into Rossellini, so this interests me more for the presence of Cocteau and Fellini as writers, and Fellini as actor. Maybe it would help me appreciate Roberto R.
4. A GIRL IN EVERY PORT. I know Howard Hawks is considered to have really come into his own in the sound era, and especially once the grammar of Hollywood talkies had formalised into the Golden Age of the late thirties and forties, but shouldn’t SOME of his silent work be worth seeing? Particularly this one, which features Louise Brooks as a prototypical Hawksian dame.
5. DANCE OF THE SEVEN VEILS. Ken Russell’s Richard Strauss film, suppressed by the Strauss estate. Reportedly the most extreme of Mad Ken’s TV films. Soon to be available in the US in a box set of the Great Masturbator’s BBC works. But I probably won’t be able to afford it. NB There are lots of other TV works by the Mastur which I haven’t managed to see either.
(STOP PRESS — apparently it isn’t in the set, despite being listed on Amazon.)
6. PHANTOM. This early Murnau classic is available from Kino, but I can never afford it (or when I can, the prospect of three other films for the same price as this single one always tempts me) and has aired on TCM a few times, but I’ve never managed to get a stateside correspondent to record it. The clips I’ve seen are truly mouth/eye-watering. They turn my eyes into salivating little mouths, is what I mean.
7. I was going to put Victor Sjostrom’s THE OUTLAW AND HIS WIFE, but remembered that I have a fuzzy off-air NTSC VHS of that, so it really belongs on the previous list. Big Victor directed my all-time favourite film, HE WHO GETS SLAPPED. So, in the wake of David Bordwell’s brilliant piece on it, I choose INGEBORG HOLM from way back in 1913.
8. If Duvivier’s availability suffers from an unjustified downgrading of his reputation (as I believe), Robert Siodmak’s obscurity is a mystery. His Hollywood output is mostly obtainable with varying degrees of effort, but the only pre-American work out there appears to be PEOPLE ON SUNDAY and PIEGES, which isn’t exactly “available” but can be had if you know the right people. PIEGES is a dream of a film, a slick thriller that prefigures the American noirs and would be essential to an understanding of the man’s oeuvre. So who knows what else is required viewing? And the post-American period is almost equally underrepresented. I managed to see NIGHTS, WHEN THE DEVIL CAME, and was bowled over by it (a serial killer in Nazi Germany… some subjects may be too striking to actually do badly). DIE RATTEN is considered an important part of post-war German cinema, but you can’t see it. I’d like to.
9. INN OF EVIL. Of course my shame at not having watched THE HUMAN CONDITION yet should preclude my mentioning more Masaki Kobayashi, but this one sounds too enticing. The fact that there are IMDb reviews suggests it is possible to see the thing.
10. THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED. I can’t believe there isn’t a thriving black market trade in copies of this one. Jerry Lewis’s Holocaust movie is something of a legend, its release forestalled by legal disputes, its reputation as the ultimate bad-taste artistic folly fuelled by only rumour and a few witness reports (I like Dan Castellanata as an actor but I don’t necessarily trust him as a film critic). Some of Lewis’s later films are problematic enough even without death camps, but this demands to be seen.
11. Anything at all by Alessandro Blasetti? Or any of the countless Riccardo Freda films that can’t be seen? Mario Bava’s last work, the TV film VENUS OF ILE? The unseen early works of Max Ophüls? There are too many candidates for this penultimate slot.
12. A note of optimism — I’ve longed to see Nick Ray’s films for a very long time, as it’s measured in Scotland. And finally it seems like WE CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN and THE JANITOR are on their way into my feverish clutches, to join the heaps of the great unwatched in my living room.
…if there’s any way to get a copy of Preston Sturges’ last film, THE DIARIES OF MAJOR THOMPSON, also known as THE FRENCH THEY ARE A FUNNY RACE?
Described as “almost defiantly unfunny” by one critic, this seems to have been a somewhat blighted project. Sturges, with what Rene Clair identified as “turn-of-the-century schoolboy French,” had to direct this film in two languages. His supposedly bilingual stars, Jack Buchanan (Scottish musical comedian, best known today for THE BANDWAGON) and Martine Carol, were in reality so incompetent in their respective second languages that they couldn’t understand one another and would miss their cues. Buchanan was also in the early stages of the spinal cancer that would kill him, which might well have cut down on his propensity for being adorably hilarious.
Come to think of it, why the hell do I want to see this film? Because it’s Sturges, and I love him. Also because all the other late-period Sturges films with shaky reputations have turned out to be well worth seeing. On first viewing, UNFAITHFULLY YOURS struck me as two-thirds masterpiece and one-third turkey. Now I’m convinced it’s a truly great comedy, and even the “bad” bits seem more like some unusual kind of brilliance. The hideously protracted, repetitious, agonizingly unfunny slapstick finale perfectly captures the experience of jealousy at work in the human mind. And THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND, whose own co-scenarist thought it the worst film ever made, actually has plenty of funny stuff in it. So I have to give this one a chance.
If I get the chance.