Le Crabe-Tambour (1977)

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A dying French naval frigate captain tries to make a last rendezvous in the winter storm-tossed seas off the Grand Banks, with "le crab tambour," a French war hero he had betrayed twenty ... See full summary »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Le médecin, Pierre
Aurore (as Aurore Clement)
Odile Versois ...
Pierre Rousseau
Jacques Dufilho ...
Chef mécanicien
Lt. Willsdorff, 'le Crabe-Tambour'
Yann Brannelec
Jean Champion
Nguyen Long Cuong
François Dyrek ...
(as Francois Dyrex)
Jean Hennau
Yves Morgan-Jones
Bernard La Jarrige ...
Le recteur
François Landolf ...
(as Francois Landolt)


A dying French naval frigate captain tries to make a last rendezvous in the winter storm-tossed seas off the Grand Banks, with "le crab tambour," a French war hero he had betrayed twenty years earlier. "Le crab tambour" the drummer crab" was a boyhood nickname for the handsome young Alsatian whom the film depicts proving his courage, first in the war in French Indochina, and then again in the "Generals' Revolt" in Algeria. Courtmartialed because friends like the French naval captain were afraid to risk their own careers by testifying for him, the exiled "crab tambour" and his trawler, The Shamrock, is now a legend among the Grand Banks fishermen. Written by Thomas Lipscomb <tom@infosafe.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Adventure | Drama | War





Release Date:

9 November 1977 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Drummer-Crab  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

, ,  »
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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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Did You Know?


One thing that may be missed by viewers of this beautiful movie is that the French Navy frigate Jauréguiberry is not crossing the North Atlantic waters for an endurance mission (although much endurance is needed). She is actually fulfilling a mission of "Surveillance des pêches" (i.e. Support to the French fishing vessels) in the "Terre Neuve" (Newfoundland) and "Saint-Pierre et Miquelon" waters, a mission that the French Navy has carried on for centuries and still does today. Fishing rights for French vessels in these waters date from before the reign of king Louis XIV, and are among the last remaining rights from the French colonial venture in Canada. It has always been accepted as a truth that the "Terre Neuvas" (fishermen trained to work in these waters) were the best, the toughest recruits for the Navy. The film is about decolonization, of course, but its main theme is duty - carrying on whatever may and however unpleasant it may be. Unglamorous assistance to the "Terre Neuvas" fits in well with this theme. Another trivia : Jean Rochefort is as natural as can be playing the part of captain of the frigate Jaureguiberry : he may have acquired such an ease from watching his brother Pierre, a Naval officer who ended his career as an Admiral. See more »


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User Reviews

Searching For The Truth About Wilsdorf a.k.a. Drummer Crab
24 January 2006 | by (New York) – See all my reviews

Le Crabe Tambour is like no other movie about soldiers that you will see, being a movie that in some parts resembles Citizen Kane, in other parts Rashomon. The doctor on a ship's final voyage across the Atlantic serves as the connecting link for the episodes that describe the title character, Wilsdorf, nicknamed "Drummer Crab." At one point, the ship's captain says Wilsdorf's two best friends were his black cat and the doctor. From what happens, Wilsdorf had another best friend, the captain, but that friendship ends as a result of events described in the movie.

Wilsdorf's adventures start off as picaresque, but they become grimmer as he takes a role in a military conspiracy, details of which are only vaguely described. You have as characters in this movie older soldiers –the captain, the doctor and the chief, and Wilsdorf, who is not shown as aging. A nurse at the harbor the ship stops at comments that usually ship's doctors are young. But Le Crabe Tambour is about old soldiers fading away, all except Wilsdorf, who is only shown through the memories of others.

Pierre Schoendoerffer also directed La 317e section in 1967, which has the character Lt. Wilsdorf in it, then in a supporting role as a soldier at Dien Bien Phu. Wilsdorf was an Alsatian drafted by the Nazis who then became a French soldier and finally, a fisherman, with a boat off the fishing grounds by Labrador. Being a literary sort, Schoendoerffer does not explain everything at the end like a typical mystery story. Behind the opening and closing credits are images of ships beached on shore, wrecks that have outlived their usefulness, just like the ship's captain. The real French frigate, the Jaureguiberry, filmed for this movie on its last voyage, gets a mention in the last credit. When you see the ship's bow plowing through high waves in the North Atlantic, you also see the sides of the ship, with rust patches on it. The ship, like some of its passengers, has reached the end of the line. Le Crabe Tambour is not about just the adventures of an errant soldier, but is an attempt to put on screen the meaning of life for career military men at the end of their careers, with one, the ship's doctor, having a last chance to find out the truth about Wilsdorf.

I doubt that the French movie industry will finance another movie like Le Crabe Tambour, which is an example of "art for art's sake." I saw the movie on the Image laserdisc of the movie, an Interama Video Classic. The LD version had English subtitles. The movie was released overseas in 1977, but in 1977 there was almost no distribution anymore of subtitled foreign movies in the United States. Le Crabe Tambour only made it to New York City in 1984 for a short run. There is a DVD version of the movie now on sale in France, but like most French movie DVDs, that DVD has no English subtitles. So, Le Crabe Tambour falls by the wayside, even though its subject, soldiers' fates, is as timely as ever.

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