|Adolphe Menjou as Major General Georges Broulard|
"I am kirk Douglas u r the mad french general who orders suicidal attacks", Eddy Butler taunted me.
Of course we were both fighting to be Dax, the hero, but in the end Eddy was right. The character I most warmed to was General Broulard, played with irresistible charm by Adolphe Menjou.
Indeed, I found myself saying so in the discussion afterwards. Even generals are not their own men, for they have to answer to the government who ordered the war in the first place, and to present it in the best way possible for public consumption as well as their political masters.
This film was not in fact anti-war as many like to think, but really about the practical difficulties of prosecuting it on the ground and presenting it to politicians and civilians back home.
The best part, for me, was this exchange:
You must be aware the general staff is subject to unfair pressures... from newspapers and politicians.
Maybe the attack against the Ant Hill was impossible.
Perhaps it was an error of judgment on our part.
On the other hand, if your men had been more daring, they might have taken it.
Who knows? In any case...
why should we have to bear any more criticism than we have to?
Aside from the fact that many of your men never left the trenches...
there's the troops' morale, don't forget.
The troops' morale?
These executions will be a perfect tonic for the entire division.
There are few things more fundamentally encouraging and stimulating...
than seeing someone else die.
I never thought of that, sir.
Colonel, troops are like children.
Just as a child wants his father to be firm, troops crave discipline.
One way to maintain discipline is to shoot a man now and then.
Was Broulard really such a villain? He did not order Brigadier Mireau to attempt to take Ant Hill, merely point out that if he continued to insist it was impossible his promotion would not be forthcoming. Even Dax had the option of taking leave if he really really thought the mission was suicidal. Someone else would have been appointed to lead his men to what would have been certain death for the overwhelming majority of them and his being on leave would have dissociated himself from the whole sorry business. Also, Broulard did confront Mireau about giving orders to fire on his own men. He basically did everything by the book, and in no way behaved dishonourably, in my opinion.
Eddy chuckled at my transgressive temerity to be the only one in the post-screening discussion who praised Broulard while all sensible people were agreed that he was the villain of the piece. I suppose it is possible that I am trying to curry favour with the British military, whom I one day hope to enjoin to overthrow this sad sorry government and draw a line under so many years of effeminate liberal poncing about in government and blowing in the wind.
Yes, I do know Menjous supported the McCarthy witch-hunts and was generally hated in Hollywood, his name being a byword for the charming pantomime villain. However, the feminine part of me thrills to now extinct men like him ...
The firing squad execution was excellently done. It is still my preferred mode of going to my death, if I have to die an unnatural and political one ...