I’ve been on a swashbuckler spree these past few weeks, what with a couple of Hindi films and then the Bengali film, Jhinder Bondi. Before I drift off into another genre, I decided I may as well finally watch a film that has been in my to-watch pile for several years now: Fanfan la Tulipe, or Fanfan the Tulip, a swashbuckler with plenty of comedy and romance thrown in. This, originally made by director Christian-Jaque in 1952, was remade in 2003, this time being directed by Gérard Krawczyk.
Fanfan la Tulipe starts off funnily with a dryly witty narration about war, which plays out against a background visual of French soldiers at war. It is the reign of Louis XV (Marcel Herrand). The Seven Years’ War is in progress, and with more men having been killed than are left alive, Louis (who loses hats, not heads, and is therefore able to swiftly get a new hat every time) announces that more Frenchmen must enlist.
Considering I’ve recently reviewed two Hindi swashbucklers (Baadal and Baadal), both obviously—in one case even with credit accorded—inspired by European sources, I thought it appropriate to continue in the genre for another film. Also a swashbuckler, also inspired by a work from European literature. The Bengali film Jhinder Bondi (‘The Prisoner of Jhind’), based on Anthony Hope’s classic The Prisoner of Zenda (and the novel which Saradindu Bandyopadhyay—of Byomkesh Bakshi fame—based on The Prisoner of Zenda).
The last Hindi film I’d reviewed was the Sanjeev Kumar swashbuckler Baadal. When I’ d begun watching that, I wondered briefly if it would be aremake of the Premnath Baadal, a film I’d seen too long back to remember much of. As it happened, while the later Baadal did borrow some of the basics—the rebel hero who falls in love with a noblewoman whom he should probably be hating instead—it is actually a very different film. Premnath’s Baadal, for one, is no poet, and instead of borrowing from The Three Musketeers, this Baadal is explicitly stated as having been inspired from Robin Hood.
The Three Musketeers meets Hamlet meets Azaad meets general swashbuckling mayhem.
I will admit I watched this film mainly for two reasons: for Sanjeev Kumar, who is deliciously handsome in his early roles; and for the song Nain bedaardi chhalia ke sang lad gaye, which is total eye candy. [I am shallow, that way].
But then, ten minutes into the film, I sat up and began getting my hopes up. Because this was taking the route of one of those classic novels that I’ve always wished Hindi cinema had adapted for the screen: Dumas’s The Three Musketeers.
The highlight of last week was—no, not an old film that I watched at home, but a new film that I watched in a cinema theatre. The Artist. A couple of friends, both people with excellent taste in cinema, recommended it to me. So I wheedled my husband into coming to watch The Artist.
And, oh. What a film. What a wonderful combination of humour, emotion, heart-breaking sorrow—and hope. It’s been a long, long time since I saw a new film that made me gush so much. (Yes, well; that probably also had a lot to do with the fact that the gorgeous Jean Dujardin is very gushworthy).
The last film I reviewed, Kohinoor, was part swashbuckler, part romance and part political intrigue. So is Prince of Foxes (though this has none of the comedy that makes Kohinoor such an endearing film). Interestingly, though, that isn’t the only thing common between these two films. They also have one scene in common. It’s a fairly critical scene in the film, where the hero has been imprisoned and is dragged forward, chained and beaten, in an assembly presided over by the villain – who sentences the hero to death. A bystander, one with ample reason to resent the hero, steps forward and disputes the death sentence – simply because it’ll bring the hero’s life to a blessed, quick end. Why not prolong his agony instead? This bystander proposes a gruesome way to do it (the same way in both Kohinoor and Prince of Foxes), and offers to do it. With the exact same results in both films.
I did not supply the details in Kohinoor, and I won’t let the cat out of the bag here. Suffice to say: if you like swashbuckling historicals, this is one Hollywood film you should put on your list.
Der Tiger von Eschnapur and Das Indische Grabmal were, as Anu called them, ‘raja-rani’ (‘king-and-queen’) films, no matter how warped they may have been as examples of that genre. In line with my last post, therefore, here’s another film: also raja-rani, also set in the India of maharajas, evil plotters wanting to make a grab at a throne that’s not legitimately theirs, and a pretty lady at the heart of it all. Kohinoor, however, is a blessedly long way from Fritz Lang’s Indian epic. This film’s a rollicking farce mostly all through, with plenty of good songs, a great cast, and some superb comedy sequences.
It was said, at one time, that if Bette Davis was the queen of Warner Brothers, Errol Flynn was the king. And a king, too, with a lineage that was astounding, to say the least. The Tasmanian-born Flynn spent a few years as a young man in Papua New Guinea holding down jobs as varied (and in some cases illegal) as diamond smuggler, slave recruiter, gold prospector, sheep castrator, and manager of tobacco and coconut plantations, before washing up in the big bad world of cinema. Flynn’s first role was as his own ancestor, Fletcher Christian, a mutineer on the HMS Bounty; two years later, opposite Olivia de Havilland (who was a very distant relative of his), Flynn acted as the pirate Captain Blood—and the king of swashbucklers had arrived.
If there’s one film that’s quintessential Tyrone Power, it’s this one. The Mark of Zorro changed Tyrone Power from being just a pretty face to being a pretty face who could also do some very fancy stunts with a sword in hand. It made him a swashbuckling star, a stereotype that was to stick with him for a while, even though he tried to shake it off with roles like that in Nightmare Alley.
And what a film. What a rollicking, enjoyable, delightful film! I love every bit of it, and have been looking forward to sharing the joy with everybody ever since I first saw it, a few months back. So, without more ado, here goes.
I admire producers and directors who gamble on completely stereotyped stars and cast them in roles one normally wouldn’t associate with them. For instance, I would probably not have thought of casting Dean Martin, with his playboy image and his singing star persona, as the drunk and pathetic deputy in Rio Bravo. I may not have considered Doris Day (screwball comedy!) appropriate as the stalked woman in Midnight Lace. And I most certainly wouldn’t have thought of casting ace dancer Gene Kelly as the lead man in this entertaining swashbuckler, which doesn’t have a single dance.