FF117 - Adventures of Gerard

Intro by John Roderick

The Napoleonic Wars are so ripe for modern costume dramatists! They have all the pride, prejudice, ripped bodices, heaving decolletage, floppy shirts, tall boots, sword fights, cavalry charges, cannon fusillades, hoddy manners, skinny mustaches, and mutton dinners that put modern moviegoers' butts in seats. But no one makes Napoleon movies! Every season we suffer through another spate of dreary not_my_daughter revenge-bloodbaths and bald-man car-chase Hamburger Bang-Bang IQ-reducers, Karen-wants-to-speak-to-the-manager romcoms that are neither, murder-clown-forever-alone jackfests and witless groin-kicking conspiracy hump-and-spy-movie-money-flushers brought to you by Zappos.

Why are there not 15 Napoleonic era sex comedy dramatainments a year? Well, let me tell you: Literature with a capital "L" has got us covered! The golden age of the novel started 100 hundred years before the Golden Age of Hollywood, so just as movie-makers love World War II, the world of literature loves Napoleon and all he wrought: War and Peace, Les Misérables, The Count of Monte Cristo, pretty much every author from Jane Austen to Dostoevsky had a go at it.

It helped that the romantic poets suffused the whole era with dew-drenched waistcoats and tear-soaked lace, laudanum, morphine and ambergris, such that dying of a saber wound was every young lover's dream, all the better if you were covered in epaulettes. I am practically ready to join the 19th century British Navy as I sit here telling you this, and just as Hollywood keeps dropping bombs down Pearl Harbor's poor funnel-stacks nearly 80 years later, so too did the Napoleonic Wars moisten the pen-nibs of writers long after the swords were sheathed.

No less than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, bored to death with his dumb Sherlock Holmes, tried his hand at the genre, and in the end had written Brigadier Etienne Gerard into 17 shorts, a play, and a novel. Now, Gerard is a buffoon, and Conan Doyle clearly delighted in writing him into all kinds of implausible scrapes, mocking French vanity in a way that only an Englishman with a mouthful of sparrow-pie and ashes can do. These are the kind of books you might find a dog-eared copy of in the head of your friend's dad's in-need-of-varnish sailboat, or gradually foxing into dust the color of strong tea on a shelf made of beadboard in a rental house in the Wellfleet.

Far from the 3-hour Napoleonic war epic I am imagining, the Gerard novels are really best suited to be adapted into an episode of Benny Hill. Maybe not surprisingly, given the bawdy sex with milkmaids and slapstick sword fighting, several attempts were made to translate Gerard to film, most recently in 1970, a year renowned for its good judgment. Set in Spain amidst the Peninsular War where Napoleon's forces fought the British and Spanish in order to prop up his older brother Joseph whom he had installed as Emperor of Spain, the ultimate sibling-own of history, Gerard is an idiotic young officer who believes himself to be the bravest and most capable soldier in Bonaparte's army, not to mention the Serge Gainsbourg of Portuguese haylofts.

Napoleon picks him to ferry a decoy message with the full expectation he will fail and be captured, but like Inspector Clouseau or Maxwell Smart, Girard falls ass-backwards into success and gallantry and the whole scheme goes ass over teakettle or "derrière plus de casque de vin" (fr: "ass over wine helmet"), or whatever. We need more films about Napoleonic War and sex and costumes and tall boots, and this movie has all that, but it isn't the template I would follow. (in a French accent): "It is for you, not for Spain!" Today on Friendly Fire: The Adventures of Gerard.

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