The Last Remake Of Beau Geste (1977 USA)

last-remake-of-beau-geste-1977-8x10 This slice of feel good cinema takes an extended dim view of gallantry, heroism, true love and honour while dealing in old husband-young wife jokes, jokes about female breasts, as well as a whole range of similar jokes that are funny primarily because they are in absolutely terrible taste. The film’s momentum is dependent not at all on any narrative devices, and entirely on the individual gags and the performances. The cast of old pros are certainly up for it.

It is Marty Feldman’s conceit to cast himself & Michael York as identical twins. The adopted sons of aging Sir Hector Geste (Trevor Howard), who was so angry after his wife died in childbirth, leaving him with an infant daughter, that he took into his home (Geste Manor) a pair of ragamuffins from the Wormwood and Gaul Orphanage. Sir Hector raises Beau (Mr. York) to be a leader of men and poor little Digby (Feldman) to follow as well as to love his adopted sister, “the fair Isabel” (Sinead Cusack), from afar.

The arrangement works well until the decrepit Sir Hector returns from a war in the Sudan with a new wife, Flavia, (Ann-Margaret). One night with Flavia and Sir Hector spends the rest of the movie in bed “alive,” as the doctor says periodically, “and dying.” After the famous Geste “Blue Water diamond” has been stolen, and the scheming Flavia has asserted her will to take control of the family, Beau and Digby, by separate routes, take off to join the French Foreign Legion. I think I may be telling you somewhat more of the plot than is necessary in an effort to keep myself from describing the film’s gags, which are really what it’s all about.

last-remake-b-gI am trying not to tell you about Digby’s brilliant break from jail with the wholehearted cooperation of the prison guards, and about his later meeting, in a desert mirage, with Gary Cooper in a scene from the 1939 film version. Like many of the gags in the film, this latter involves some clever crosscutting and results in a rather different image for Cooper. Feldman surrounded himself with some of the funniest people in the business. Most of them are now dead of course. They include Trevor Howard; Spike Milligan as Sir Hector’s ancient manservant, a fellow who sways like a pendulum when he walks.

Peter Ustinov plays the sadistic Foreign Legion sergeant, who calls his men “my little fledermouses,” and rides a horse that has a pegleg like his own. James Earl Jones is a very Anglicized Arab chieftain. Ann-Margaret and Michael York play things fairly straight. I’m not sure that Feldman, as a film’s principal comedian, is as much fun as he is when he’s part of an antic combination, as he was in both “Young Frankenstein” and “Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother.” It was the nature of his comic personality that he was funniest when he is a member of a gang, adding a surreal visual touch as well as a presence that’s slightly menacing because it’s so unpredictable. As the star—as well as the director—there are moments when the desperation is apparent. If you are a fan of juvenile comedy this might be for you.

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