Fanfan La Tulipe (1952)

Gérard Philipe, Gina Lollobrigida, Marcel Herrand, Olivier Hussenot,
Swashbuckling adventures of young army recruit Fanfan la Tulipe during the reign of King Louis XV in 18th Century France.
  • 7.2 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • René Wheeler, René Fallet, Henri Jeanson, Writer:
  • Christian-Jaque, Director:
  • Alexandre Mnouchkine, Producer:

All subtitles:



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6 / 10

Not bad, but this is actually one case where sometimes Hollywood did it better.

Fan-Fan (Gérard Philipe) is a bit of a rogue and lived during the time of the Seven Years' War (in America, it's known at "The French-Indian War" but only refers to the fighting on our continent). I loved the prologue that sarcastically talked about how wonderful war and death were! Well, in the midst of this long blood-bath (that took about a million lives), Fan-Fan joins the army in order to avoid being forced to marry a girl his despoiled (and you would assume that he's done this before). The idea of doing this came from a very sexy lady (Gina Lollabrigida) who pretended to read his fortune and she actually was the one who suggested he enlist. The rest of the film consists of Fan-Fan nearly being hung or stabbed and surviving only with his good looks, sense of adventure and athleticism.

I am a huge fan of French cinema and I really wanted to love this film. However, after a while I realized that the film, while watchable, was something of a disappointment. That's because this is a case where Hollywood actually did this sort of film better. Now this is NOT to say they always did it better, but around 1952 Burt Lancaster was making similar films ("The Flame and the Arrow" and "The Crimson Pirate") dandy films that were very similar to "Fan-Fan" and were also better. Why? Well, while "Fan Fan" was athletic and charismatic, Lancaster was perfect for such roles--with an even greater level of athleticism and sex appeal. And, while it's not THAT important, Lancaster's films were in color and had better production values. Compared side by side, "Fan Fan" is just a bit flat.

While today I would clearly choose to watch the average French film over the average Hollywood product, back in the 40s and 50s, Hollywood did actually seem to often get things right.

7 / 10

Quite mad ,which is fine with me!

"Fanfan la tulipe" is still Gerard Philippe's most popular part and it began the swashbuckler craze which throve in the French cinema in the 1955-1965 years.It made Gina Lollobrigida a star (Lollobrigida and Philippe would team up again in René Clair"s "Belles de nuit" the same year.

"Fanfan la tulipe" is completely mad,sometimes verging on absurd .Henri Jeanson's witty lines -full of dark irony- were probably influenced by Voltaire and "Candide" .Antimilitarism often comes to the fore:"these draftees radiate joie de vivre -and joie de mourir when necessary (joy of life and joy of death)""It becomes necessary to recruit men when the casualties outnumber the survivors" "You won the battle without the thousands of deaths you had promised me, king Louis XV complains,but no matter ,let's wait for the next time."

A voice over comments the story at the beginning and at the end and history is given a rough ride:height of irony,it's a genuine historian who speaks!

Christian-Jaque directs the movie with gusto and he knows only one tempo :accelerated.

Remake in 2003 with Vincent Perez and Penelope Cruz.I have not seen it but I do not think it had to be made in the first place.

7 / 10

FANFAN LA TULIPE (Christian-Jaque, 1952) ***

This is the last of four swashbucklers from France I've scheduled for viewing during this Christmas season: the others (in order of viewing) were the uninspired THE BLACK TULIP (1964; from the same director as this one but not nearly as good), the surprisingly effective LADY Oscar (1979; which had originated as a Japanese manga!) and the splendid CARTOUCHE (1962). Actually, I had watched this one not too long ago on late-night Italian TV and recall not being especially bowled over by it, so that I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed it this time around (also bearing in mind the baffling lack of enthusiasm shown towards the film here and elsewhere when it was first announced as an upcoming DVD release from Criterion).

Incidentally, FANFAN LA TULIPE has quite a bit in common with the afore-mentioned CARTOUCHE: not just cast and crew members (producers Georges Dancigers and Alexandre Mnouchkine, cinematographer Christian Matras, actor Noel Roquevert) but plot-wise as well ? in fact, the hero is a womanizing soldier (Jean-Paul Belmondo's Cartouche had also had a brief military spell) who's loved by a fiery girl (in this case, gypsy Gina Lollobrigida) while he's himself obsessed by an impossible love (here, it's none other than the king's daughter)! As in the later film, too, Fanfan (an ideally cast Gerard Philipe who, ironically, is so full of life here that one finds it hard to believe that he would be stricken down by cancer within 7 years' time) is flanked by two fun-loving yet cowardly men (one of them is actually his superior officer and the heroine's own father) and opposed by an unscrupulous figure within his own ranks (the ageing Roquevert, with whom the hero eventually engages in a rooftop duel since he too has amorous designs on the gypsy girl)!; for the record, Lollobrigida will rejoin Philippe in her next film, Rene Clair's delightful romantic fantasy LES BELLES DE NUIT (1952).

FANFAN proved to be a big box-office hit on its home-ground and even copped a surprising (but well-deserved) Best Direction award at Cannes over more renowned films like AN American IN Paris (1951), DETECTIVE STORY (1951), OTHELLO, UMBERTO D. and VIVA ZAPATA! In fact, its popularity ensured its re-release in a computer-colored version (presumably for the benefit of viewers who wouldn't touch a black-and-white product with a ten-foot pole) and the Criterion DVD itself contains a sample from this variant; being obviously a foreign-language title, there's also the dubious choice of an English-dubbed soundtrack but, even if these proved not especially painful to sit through considering, when all is said and done, there's simply no substitute for the original!

FANFAN LA TULIPE (a nickname given the hero by a young Genevieve Page as the celebrated Madame De Pompadour) contains about as much comedy as (the expected) action and romance; while some may find this overwhelming, I don't agree myself as I enjoyed the sharply satirical narration and, on the whole, this combination is comparable with Jerzy Skolimowski's equally droll THE ADVENTURES OF GERARD (1970). That said, the swordfights here are remarkably forceful for an essentially lighthearted enterprise (particularly a scuffle in the woods and the ambush at a convent) and the film itself rather adult at times (with numerous allusions to sexuality as well as coarse language adopted throughout) when viewed back-to-back with vintage Hollywood fare as I did now; the climax, then is quite ingenious: the enemy forces (who, amusingly, are made to speak in speeded-up gibberish!) are depleted by our heroic trio alone, much to the king's amazement who, as portrayed by Marcel Herrand ? best-known for his role of leader of the Parisian underworld in Marcel Carne''s CHILDREN OF PARADISE (1945) ? is himself something of a lecher.

P.S. An Italian TV channel has been threatening to screen Christian-Jaque's promising CHAMPAGNE FOR SAVAGES (1964) for months now but, despite programming it three times already (with a tentative fourth one slated for next week), they have yet to show it; even so, I do have three more films of his in my unwatched VHS pile (equally culled from late-night Italian TV screenings): the three-hour epic LA CHARTREUSE DE PARME (1948; also starring Gerard Philippe), THE SECOND TWIN (1967) and THE LEGEND OF FRENCHIE KING (1971; with Brigitte Bardot and Claudia Cardinale).

8 / 10

Slasher Movie

The nearest I ever came to seeing this was a clip shown at a Gerard Philippe exposition in Paris about two years ago. I had no interest in the remake and having just caught up with the original just over half a century after it was made I can only conclude that the inept fencing was intentional, aimed at a long obsolete target. Hollywood had been doing realistic sword fights since the 30s when the greatest of them all, Basil Rathbone, crossed foils with Errol Flynn and others so the technique was available and so that leaves only satire. After a while you don't notice and revel in the Henri Jeanson dialogue reminiscent of the Prisoner Of Zenda, both versions. Gerard Philippe certainly had the presence to bring off a role like this and Gina Lollabrigida was probably a tad better than Martine Carol, the other obvious candidate at the time. The print I saw was particularly bad and at one point broke down completely so maybe a DVD version would enhance it.

7 / 10

"Cinema du papa" rediscovered

The main reason for me to see this film was Gina Lollobrigida. I had never seen a film from her. I think she is less popular with film buffs thanthe other two Italian film diva's Sophia Loren and Claudia Cardinale. Maybe this is because her career was more Hollywood oriented. As a result she does not have the close ties with a famous Italian director that Sophia Loren (Vittorio de Sica) and Claudia Cardinale (Federico Fellini and Luchino Visconti) do have.

Given this main reason, my (other) expectations of the film were not very high. As is often the case when your expectations are quite low, I was pleasantly surprised. Closer investigation revealed to me that the other main actor, Gérard Philipe, was a quite a famous actor in his day. A sort of French Douglas Fairbanks.

The reason that he and the films he played in have been forgotten is mainly attributable to the directors of the French "Nouvelle vague" movement of the 60's. They despised films like "Fanfan la tulipe", because they had in their opinion no social relevance. They were only "escapist amusement". They called them derogatory "cinema du papa".

Douglas Fairbanks has not been forgotten, and rightly so. Gérard Philipe, "Fanfan la tulipe" and other movies of the "cinema du papa" also did not deserve to be forgotten. For the ones who will not be deceived by the contempt of the "Nouvelle vague" directors and who dare to rediscover these movies, they are a lot of fun to watch.