It would be easy in a review to spoil the fun of a film such as Fanfan la Tulipe by offering even the barest of descriptions of its plot. Much of the delight in watching it is derived from the simplest surprises, so much so that one cannot even describe how its titular protagonist, Fanfan, earned the sobriquet of la Tulipe without depriving the audience of one of the film’s pleasures.
Suffice it to say that Fanfan (played by Gérard Philipe) is a happy-go-lucky rogue, meaning no one any harm, who is merely minding his own business (i.e. having a tumble in the hay with the farmer’s daughter), when he is rudely interrupted and pursued by a mob with the intent of forcing him to marry said daughter. Set in France during the reign of Louis XV, it is a time of war, and recruiters for the King’s armies are working hard to replenish their ranks so the grand game of war can continue. This, Fanfan decides, is his opportunity to escape imminent matrimony, so he makes his break to enlist. Fanfan, alas, is not the soldierly type, but he is the swashbuckling type, and his antics are the stuff of legend against the backdrop of earnestly waged European warfare.
Being a French (and Italian) film set in France during a romantic era, there is, of course, l’amour, and it is naturally the prime motivator. Without revealing too much, the cast includes Sylvie Pelayo as Princess Henriette, Geneviève Page as the Marquise de Pompadour, and Gina Lollobrigida as Adeline, all three of whom are distractingly beautiful, and all three of whom play their parts perfectly.
Philipe is flawless as the iconic hero of the film. Whimsical, rambunctious, charmingly naïve, and disarmingly wise, his Fanfan propels the story like a charging D’Artagnan. To his credit, Philipe performed most of his own stunts — of which there were many — and performed them extremely well. (Fanfan la Tulipe is replete with daring stunts and combat scenes, and its carriage chase sequence is one of the best chases ever filmed.)
If the film were a triptych, the Folly of War would be the third panel accompanying Love and Adventure. Indeed, beginning with the introduction, the 18th century European institution of (ostensibly) civilized warfare is roundly mocked, and this mockery continues throughout the film with satirical depictions of recruitment, training, tactical planning, battles, and espionage. The primary antagonists, as all three elements converge, are Marshal d’Estrées (Henri Rollan) and Louis XV (Marcel Herrand), both of whom are played impeccably.
Fanfan la Tulipe is deservedly regarded as a classic of French filmmaking and the swashbuckling genre. In both regards, its greatness is undimmed and it remains a joy to behold.
- Writing: Great
- Directing: Great
- Acting: Great
- Cinematography: Superb
- Stunts: Great
- Swordplay: Good
- Panache: Superb
Overall Rating: Great
Swashbuckling Rank: Great/Superb