Now That’s What I Call Quite Good: The Diary of Major Thompson

the diary of major thompson indexMuch has been written about the career of Preston Sturges and how after producing hit after hit in the early to mid nineteen forties his career went downhill fast with the films he made being both critical and box office flops. But though this final film is definitely not the work of a director at the top of his game it’s nowhere near as poor as its reputation would suggest, and its a hell of a lot better than Sturges’ previous film The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend.

Also known as The French They Are A Funny Race, and based on the novel by Pierre Daninos, the titular Major Thompson (Jack Buchanan) is a very well spoken upper class English gentleman who is married to the very French Martine (Martine Carol) and writing about his experiences with the race. There’s a very slight narrative based around the Major wanting Miss Fyfyth (Totti Truman Taylor) to serve as a governess figure for his son, but with Martine strongly disliking the woman to the extent that their marriage may be in trouble, but mostly it’s a series of sketches where Thompson discusses a number of topics.

Though the various subjects tackled may not sound hilarious, with Thompson rambling away about how the French variously drive, shake hands, and are born mistrustful, along with sex, love, psychiatry and bureaucracy, they’re fairly witty pieces. Sturges carefully avoids cliché most of the time, and the dialogue is nicely self-deprecating in places too with Thompson rarely taking himself too seriously and Thompson’s French friend Monsieur Taupin (Noël-Noël) is a fun character too.

There’s the odd sequence which doesn’t quite work, the part on bureaucracy has a long dialogue free scene involving plastic screens that is quite bland, and a part involving Monsieur Tapin following a woman around that he fancies hasn’t aged well, but largely this is a very amiable affair. Miss Fyfyth and her incredibly British ways are sent up in an amusing fashion, there’s some fun mockery of “Passionate love scenes” when Thompson talks about his first wife, and as in nearly every film Sturges directed his lead has a great piece of slapstick with Thompson’s attempts to sleep in a hammock while drunk being the funniest part of the film.

It’s perhaps a little long at 105 minutes, and the ending is slightly contrived, but all of the performances are enjoyable, Jack Buchanan holds the whole thing together and even despite the lack of narrative it’s an engaging work which shows that Sturges hadn’t lost his way, and due to that it’s a shame that he never produced a film again before his premature death just five years later.

★★★1/2

Alex Finch.
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