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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Monday, May 13, 2013

A SUBCOMBATIVE CORSICAN

Within the last year I've reviewed two cinematic versions of Alexandre Dumas' novella THE CORSICAN BROTHERS: one the 1953 B-movie BANDITS OF CORSICA, and the other the 1984 spoof CHEECH AND CHONG'S THE CORSICAN BROTHERS. Since I labeled both films as being "combative" types within their respective mythoi, as well as being "uncanny" in their phenomenality due to the trope of the twins sharing sensations, I felt it behooved me to see how the original book related to these.  I had no doubt that the book would fit the uncanny phenomenality as well, but was Dumas' work in any way a combative narrative?

My verdict, in a word, is no.  I suspect that these two swashbucklers-- one done straight, the other as a jokefest-- borrow their main tropes not from the book but from the influential 1941 Hollywood film starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr., summarized here.  IMDB asserts that there were seven previous filmizations of the Dumas story, but none of them have become celebrated by film-fans, so I think I'm correct in suspecting that the Fairbanks film is the primary model for the films from 1953 and 1984.  The makers of the Fairbanks version were probably aware that the film-audience's strongest association with Dumas was his novel THE THREE MUSKETEERS, and so I surmise that the 1941 film was given a "Musketeer-ization" to make it more palatable to lovers of buckled swashes.  The 1953 BANDITS imitates the plotline of the 1941 film, as well as calling the brothers "Lucien" and "Mario."  Rather surprisingly, the Cheech and Chong film is closer to the Dumas work, in that it uses the original names of the brothers-- i.e., "Lucien" and "Louis"-- and, rather than making both brothers formidable fighters, portrays the Louis character as unable to defend himself.

The central theme of Dumas' novella-- which seems like an extended short story-- is to explore the nature of "savage" Corsica, a French holding that was physically and culturally closer to Italy than to France.  Dumas builds on the reality of Corsica's seclusion-- due to being walled off by a mountain range-- to depict the inhabitants as something of a throwback to medieval days.  As the narrator-- implicitly Dumas himself-- travels in Corsica, he happens to visit the estate of the De Franchi family.  The main exemplars of this branch of Corsican nobility are Lucien de Franchi and his mother.  They take the narrator into their home and give him an intimate understanding of Corsican culture, principally the practice of the vendetta, the blood-feud that often pits entire Corsican families against one another to avenge some offense or insult.  Lucien and his mother are both well-spoken and sophisticated, but the narrator soon divines that Lucien is a man of his people, who predicts dolefully that in time his people's rough ways will be overcome by modernity. 

Indeed, Lucien's absent brother Louis has left Corsica to study law in Paris, the better to prepare for the inevitable transition of Corsica into the modern world.  Lucien informs the narrator that Louis shares none of Lucien's passion for hunting and shooting, which foregrounds Louis' unfortunate fate in Paris.  Lucien relates the novella's most famous trope-- that he can experience aspects of Louis' emotions even though the brother is in Paris, because the two of them were once conjoined twins, separated by surgery.  But Lucien also informs the narrator of a tendency shared by all the De Franchi men: that they always or often behold the spectres of their relatives at times of great turmoil.  Surprisingly, the sophisticated Parisian does not play the skeptic in this exchange, but attests that he's had his own psychic experience. This psychic aspect of the story only plays a small role in the story's plot, though it fits overall with the quality of Corsican sentiment: the sense that conflict and vengeance are fated to happen, and that they can only be embraced, not fought against. Throughout the novella Dumas frequently describes separate events that happen fortuitously at the exact same time, which in a rough way prefigures Jung's idea of synchronicity, which I examined here.


Following this long setup, the central conflict finally comes to light. Returning to Paris, the narrator seeks out Louis De Franchi. Louis, far from being involved in Musketeer-like affairs of state, has been asked by a friend to look out for the man's wife while the man is at sea.  Louis himself is in love with the woman, and because of that he somewhat abrogates his agreement to watch over the wife.  A rouĂ© named Chateau-Renard attempts to seduce the woman, and when Louis eventually interferes, the villain challenges Louis to the Parisian equivalent of the vendetta: a duel.  Louis, despite being incompetent with firearms, accepts the duel honorably and meets his death stoically.  However, the novella's reversal of this fate comes when his wrathful brother arrives in Paris-- long before any letter could have reached Corsica-- and scares the crap out of Chateau-Renard, since Lucien looks just like the man the seducer has killed.  The novella winds up with a repeat of the duel, which the villain loses, and the "hero" of the story weeping for his brother.

I say "hero" advisedly, for though many cinematic descendants of Lucien De Franchi have been legitimate heroes in every way, Dumas' original conforms to my concept of the "demihero," a character who may be as dynamic as a hero in some ways, but whose narrative function lacks the quality I call "intellectual will," and aligns better with that of the "intuitive will," discussed here.

Further, Lucien's victory in the duel, though it validates a certain level of martial competence, cannot be considered "combative," in contrast with later epigones from the film adaptations cited.  Even Tommy Chong's comic Lucien displays a power of "spectacular violence" in his none-too-funny antics.  The original Lucien's duel, though satisfying on its own terms, lacks even the modest spectacle seen in the conclusion of Doyle's HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, and I judged that conclusion to be too weak to qualify as "spectacular violence" here.





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