The Fighting Eagle
Country: United States
Director: Donald Crisp
Writer: Douglas Z. Doty (from a play by Arthur Conan Doyle)
Cast: Rod La Rocque, Phyllis Haver, Sam De Grasse, Max Barwyn, Julia Faye, Sally Rand, Clarence Burton, and Alphonse Ethier
Sound Mix: Silent
Company: DeMille Pictures Corporation
Runtime: 54 minutes
tory: Unaware that his Minister of Foreign Affairs, the traitorous Talleyrand (Sam De Grasse), is in the pay of Spain, the Emperor Napoleon (Max Barwyn) informs him that his secret agent, the Countess de Launay (Phyllis Haver), is returning from Madrid with information that may justify war with that country. Talleyrand warns that attacking Spain will inflame Europe, but Napoleon rudely tells Talleyrand that he did not ask him for his opinion. Relaying this information to the Spanish ambassador, Talleyrand is told that Spain will pay him a million francs if the Countess de Launay is stopped at the border.
Talleyrand, his secretary Fräulein Hertz (Sally Rand), and his minions arrive at the inn seeking to steal the secret paper containing the vital information from Spain that is being carried by the Countess de Launay. As Talleyrand has dinner with the Countess, one of his agents searches her room for the paper. Gerard, smitten with the Countess and eager to serve the Emperor, orders that her carriage be readied for a quick exit.
After dinner, the Countess retires to her room and Talleyrand orders a bottle of cognac from Gerard. Talleyrand's agents lock Gerard in the wine cellar and then confront the Countess in her room in an effort to take the paper. Breaking free from the cellar, Gerard rescues the Countess from Talleyrand's agents. They escape to the waiting carriage and Gerard rides off with the Countess.
A carriage arrives just as Gerard angrily stalks outside. It is the Countess de Launay, with orders from Napoleon that Gerard assist her in secret service. The Countess informs him that they are to steal a letter from Talleyrand which will prove him guilty of treason. The next morning the officers await Gerard at the old stone bridge. When he doesn't show up at the appointed time they condemn him as a coward.
Meanwhile, Talleyrand prepares his letter of resignation to present to the Emperor. As his servants pack his things, Talleyrand is visited by the Countess de Launay, who claims that she too has lost favor with Napoleon and wishes to seek asylum in Russia. She suggests that together they can wreak their revenge through the Czar.
When no one is looking, the Countess ensures that Gerard sees her placing the letter in his vest, but as he's placed in the chest the letter drops to the floor. Unbeknownst to Gerard, the Countess retrieves the letter and hides it in Gerard's hat, which is thrown into the chest with him.
The Countess de Launay arrives and tells the confined Gerard that the letter was concealed in his hat. She tells him that Napoleon is on his way to Paris, and orders Gerard to bring him to her. Ever mindful of his duty, Gerard escapes and rides off to intercept Napoleon as the Countess distracts his guard. As Napoleon's coach stops near a stream to water the horses, Gerard jumps on the lead horse and spurs the team back to the regiment with the Emperor in tow.
Napoleon halts the execution, pins a medal on Gerard, promotes him to colonel, and asks what he would do without him—all to the astonishment of Gerard's fellow officers in the regiment. Under Napoleon's watchful gaze, Gerard takes the Countess de Launay in his arms.
omment: The Fighting Eagle was rather freely adapted by screenwriter Douglas Z. Doty from a play that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had originally written in 1903 and later revised in 1906. Having killed off his better known character, Sherlock Holmes (or so he had thought), Conan Doyle first started work on a new series of stories for publication in The Strand magazine in late 1894, each to feature an adventure of his new character, Etienne Gerard, a Hussar in Napoleon's Army. Brigadier Gerard is a vain, boastful, naïve, but brave and loyal officer in the French Army, and is devoted to his mother, his Emperor, and his country—roughly in that order. Although not as well known today as his Sherlock Holmes stories, Conan Doyle's Gerard stories were quite popular in their day, and after the first batch of eight were published between December 1894 and December 1895, Conan Doyle sold another nine stories between January 1900 and May 1903. A final follow-up story was published in September 1910. Etienne Gerard also shows up as a major supporting character in Conan Doyle's 1897 historical novel, Uncle Bernac: A Memory of the Empire.
Conan Doyle's 1903 play, The Adventures of Gerard, adapted for its initial production by Eugene W. Presbrey, a successful American playwright, stage manager, and director, drew elements from three Gerard stories, "How the Brigadier Won His Medal" (adapted for television in 1954 as an episode of Schlitz Playhouse), "How the Brigadier Captured Saragossa", and "How the Brigadier was Tempted by the Devil". After a brief run, Conan Doyle revised the play for production in 1906 under the title Brigadier Gerard, presumably deleting the elements added by Presbrey, since his name no longer appears in the credits.
Although the script for Conan Doyle's play has never been published, Theatre Magazine's review, published in December 1906, describes a familiar scene in the first act, where "Gerard's brother officers, who see him for the first time, by a prearranged plan, draw out his boastfulness and make game of him. When he discovers this he offers to fight any number of them, the duels being prevented by his orders to go on his mission." The balance of the plot is described in the review as:
Comparing the plot description of the original play to the scenario of the film gives us an idea of the changes to Conan Doyle's story that were made
by scriptwriter Doty in his screen adaptation. The movie adds the business in the first act about the secret paper justifying war with Spain, greatly
expands the involvement of the Countess de Launay (whose name has been shortened from the Countess de Roquelaure in the play), and re-locates Gerard's
original home from Gascony to Andorra, substituting his grandmother for his dear mother as described in Conan Doyle's stories. The flashback scene where
Gerard relates how he first met Napoleon and became a captain was taken from an incident in Conan Doyle's story, "How the Brigadier Saved the Army".
istorical Context: Conan Doyle was something of a stickler for historical accuracy in his Brigadier Gerard stories, and presumably took pains to ensure that his play met his usual high standards, so perhaps it was screenwriter Douglas Z. Doty who introduced historical confusion into the picture. The film opens with Napoleon finding cause to invade Spain. The actual invasion of Spain took place in 1808, so presumably the events in the first act take place somewhere between 1807 and 1808. However, we are told that eighteen months later Talleyrand is preparing to resign as Napoleon's Minister of Foreign Affairs, which actually took place in 1807.
After he's prepared his letter of resignation, the Countess de Launay tries to convince Talleyrand that she's prepared to defect to the Russians and work against Napoleon, but Napoleon had made peace with Russia at Tilsit in July of 1807 and Talleyrand did not resign until August, so Russia was an ally at the time. To add to the confusion, the chest that both Talleyrand and Gerard briefly occupy in the second act is called "the Kremlin chest," which suggests that it may have been brought back from Russia after Napoleon's disastrous campaign of 1812.
In short, one should not look to The Fighting Eagle for an outline of French history.
Availability: Copies of The Fighting Eagle exist from 16mm reduction prints and the film has been released on DVD-R by Grapevine Video. It is available at Amazon.com.
References: IMDb; Wikipedia; Goldfarb, Clifford S. The Great Shadow: Arthur Conan Doyle, Brigadier Gerard and Napoleon Ashcroft, British Columbia, Canada. Calabash Press, 1997; The Current Plays, The Theatre Magazine, Vol. VI, No. 70, The Theatre Magazine Company, New York, December 1906; Mattei, Jean-Pierre, Napoleon & le cinema: Un siecle d'images (French Edition), Ajaccio, Editions Alain Piazzola, Cinémathèque de Corse, 1998.
|© 2012 by Clark J. Holloway.|