It’s axiomatic that when a famous old movie gets rereleased, the press showers it with the praise befitting a ”classic.” Yet not all classics are created equal, and I hope the revival-house gods will forgive me when I say that Fanfan la Tulipe, the 1952 French swashbuckler that’s being re-released in a handsome new print, tastes like the 54-year-old pastry it is. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the leaping, dancing sword fights of yesteryear (the 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood, with Errol Flynn, is one of my favorites), but Fanfan is so cloyingly, crashingly whimsical, so enamored of the chin-chin good cheer of men in tights, that you may wish Flynn himself would show up to infuse the confectionary Gallic gallantry with a dose of honest virile derring-do.
Instead, we get Gérard Philipe, a heartthrob who’s likable yet weightless, sort of like Jim Carrey reining in his lunacy in the wrong film. As Fanfan, a rapscallion who joins Louis XV’s army to avoid marrying a peasant bonbon, Philipe is our guide through coy escapes, coy drunkenness, coy military skirmishes, and coy executions; it’s like watching a musical without the numbers. You’ll be grateful for the moments when he flirts with Gina Lollobrigida, as a Gypsy hottie who looks like she could eat this tulip of a man alive. The French New Wave directors famously rebelled against their country’s ”cinéma de qualityé.” See Fanfan, and you’ll know why.