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Original literary source: "Les carnets du Major Thompson. Découverte de la France et des Français", novel by Pierre Daninos, illustrated by Walter Goetz, published by Hachette, Paris, 1954, 244 pages. See more »
"Les Carnets du Major Thompson" was based on a novel by Pierre Daninos which was a best-seller in France in the early 1950s. The title literally translates as "Major Thompson's Medals", but a more appropriate translation would be "Major Thompson's Trophies", with "trophies" representing a sexual double-entendre. The novel depicts the adventures of a rather befuddled Englishman living in France, trying to adapt to French ways and falling in love with a Frenchwoman. The Englishman (Major Thompson) is the butt of all the humour, which is why this novel was so popular in France: although set in France, it makes fun of Englishmen!
The film version of "Major Thompson" was directed by Preston Sturges, after he'd rendered himself unemployable in Hollywood and was living in exile. Sturges spoke French fluently, having lived in Paris during his childhood. (Believe it or not, Preston Sturges's mother was the artist who created and gave to Isidora Duncan the long hand-painted scarf which caused Duncan's legendary death by strangulation!) But Sturges's francophilia is the only plus-factor in this terrible movie. His talent was long gone by this time, and so was his energy. The plot of "Major Thompson" is extremely episodic (like its source novel), and the film lurches from one weak scene to another. The fade-out gag is painfully unfunny, like the rest of the film.
Major Thompson is played by Jack Buchanan, a Scotsman who fitted the American conception of "English"-ness much more neatly than most genuine Englishmen did. Buchanan gave excellent performances in several previous films, but he was dying of cancer when he went to France to film "Major Thompson", and it shows. He's a dead man walking.
The only scene in this film which is even vaguely funny occurs when Thompson and his French equestrienne paramour go riding. Their horses won't stay put in front of the cameras, and keep wandering off with their riders brought unwillingly along. Buchanan looks genuinely perplexed as his horse keeps carrying him away from the camera. This scene works so well (in contrast to the rest of the movie) that I don't believe it was planned: I think that the horses were genuinely ill-trained, and Sturges had the good sense to let the horses "ad lib" and steal the scene.
Noél-Noél, a French comedian with a rather comic face (whom I've never found funny otherwise) does a brief cameo, drinking Byrrh in a sidewalk cafe. He doesn't do anything funny here, apart from looking straight into the camera ... which in his case is good for one quick laugh.
I'll rate "Les Carnets du Major Thompson" zero points. I wanted so much to like this movie, because I'm a fan of Preston Sturges and a fan of Jack Buchanan: this was their only collaboration, and the last film for both. But it's sad and unfunny, and I can't recommend it on any level
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