Philippe de Broca (director)
16 July 2018 (released)
16 July 2018
This cult comedy, which highlights the follies of war, celebrates its 50th Anniversary and what better way to celebrate than with this 4K restoration Dual Format release.
Alan Bates is at the forefront as a kilt-wearing Scottish soldier entrusted with disarming a bomb placed by the Germans in a small French town towards the end of the First World War.
The First World War is coming to an end, well… almost! Adamant to bow out triumphantly, the Imperial German Army has no plans to retreat from a small French town, oh no! In fact, they booby trap the whole town with the intention of blowing it up when the hour strikes midnight. A local man forced to serve the German Lieutenant Hamburger (Marc Dudicourt) during the occupation understands enough German to realise the explosive device, hidden inside what appears to be the remnants of a statue in the market square and now covered with cement, is connected to the church tower… hence once the figure of a knight, attached to a bell, strikes midnight the town goes up in flames. The French man manages to gain access to a shop and make a secret phone call, using the code word “The Mackerel likes frying” followed by the warning “The Knight strikes at midnight”. However, before he can explain the meaning of his words the Germans discover and shoot him, prompting the locals to flee. Then the German army also retreat but only to take up camp again outside town, after all, they wouldn’t miss the spectacle of a town going up at flames for anything in the world.
But parts of the shot French man’s message did go through to Colonel MacBibenbrook’s (Adolfo Celi) Scottish Signal Corps and he sends Private Charles Plumpick (A. Bates) into town to try and dismantle the bomb… provided he can find it of course! Plumpick, a French-born Scottish soldier caring for war pigeons, enters the seemingly deserted town, together with one of his pigeons, and tries together the puzzle of the words “The Mackerel likes frying” and “The Knight strikes at midnight”. But the Germans also got wind that MacBibenbrook’s Signal Corps got wind… and send some of their soldiers back into town to investigate. Sure enough they discover a certain Private Plumpick acting highly suspicious and chase him through the town’s small alleyways though luckily he manages to escape to, what he thinks, a secluded mansion. However, the secluded mansion turns out to be the local lunatic asylum and its inmates welcome Plumpick with open arms.. As the asylum gates were left open the inmates soon escape, taking on the role of the actual townspeople who already fled. Helping themselves to all sorts of fanciful costumes from the abandoned shops, the inmates frolic about town as if war never happened and in a bizarre and surreal ceremony, led by ‘General Geranium’ (Pierre Brasseur), Plumpick is crowned ‘King of Hearts’ while pretty inmate Coquelicot (Geneviève Bujold) is made his Queen. Other escaped characters from the asylum include ‘Duc de Trefle’ (Jean-Claude Brialy), ‘The Countess’ (Francoise Christophe), Monsieur Marcel (Michel Serrault) and Madame Eglantine (Micheline Presle).
With Plumpick seemingly not understanding that General Geranium and Co. really are inmates from the asylum our hapless Scottish hero tries in vain to establish the whereabouts of the explosives, not helped by the German army returning and trying to sabotage Plumpick’s attempts to dismantle the bomb – if only they could find him! Soon the situation descends into utter chaos, with the Germans looking for Plumpick, Plumpick looking for the bomb, and MacBibenbrook’s soldiers rushing to help. Liberation is close but can the town be saved before the Knight strikes at midnight?
This is great fun (in a bonkers kind of way) although the films falls a little flat halfway through due to the shifting focus on the action: whereas at the beginning and towards the end of the film the emphasis lies firmly on military ploys and consequent counteraction, the middle part sees the ‘mad’ inmates going about their crazy shenanigans and nonsensical behaviour as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Which is fine for a while but here we have too much of it and as a consequence things begin to drag a bit.
Bonus Material consists of Trailer, Audio Commentary, Collector’s Booklet and various interviews – including an interview with Geneviève Bujold from 2017.