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How the Brigadier Won His Medals, Schlitz Playhouse, episode 3.44


Napoleon (Booth Colman, left) gives instructions to Brigadier
Gerard (Claude Dauphin, right) and Major Charpentier.
Release Year: 1954
Country: United States
Director: Justin Addiss
Writers: DeWitt Bodeen (teleplay), Arthur Conan Doyle (story)
Cast: Richard Avonde, Booth Colman, Harry Cording, Claude Dauphin, Hal Gerard, Charles Hayward, Ted Hecht, Pat O'Moore, Eugenia Paul, Otto Reichow, Henry Rowland
Music: Melvyn Lenard
Company: Meridian Productions
Runtime: 30 minutes


S

tory: Brigadier Etienne Gerard (Claude Dauphin) of the Hussars stops in a small village in the French countryside to water his beloved horse, Violette, and meets the beautiful young Sophie (Eugenia Paul), Russian maid to the Comtesse d'Angennes. After a bit of banter, he arranges an assignation with the young lady for later that evening. He is called away, however, by Major Charpentier, who informs him that they have been summoned by the Emperor.

Finding Napoleon (Booth Colman) in his tent with Berthier studying a map, Gerard and the Major are instructed to deliver identical letters by different routes to Napoleon's brother, the King of Spain, who is in Paris. Napoleon tells them that the Prussians and the Cossacks are closing on Paris, and that the letters will inform Joseph that Napoleon and his army will come to their aid within two days. Napoleon promises them that he will award each of them the Medal of Honor when they complete their dangerous mission through enemy-held territory.

Following Napoleon's instructions, Charpentier and Gerard ride together for the first stage of their journey. When it comes time to part, Charpentier confuses Gerard by hinting that there may be a reason for the Emperor sending them on a mission in which they are sure to be captured. Gerard dismisses the idea and the two set off independently.


Napoleon (Booth Colman) loses his temper.
Gerard quickly has a run-in with a mounted Prussian soldier, but makes his escape by shooting the fellow in the shoulder. Soon after, Gerard comes to the town of Senlis, recently liberated from the Cossacks, and is trapped in the mayor's cellar when the Prussians re-take the town. Discovering Count Boutkine, a Cossack officer hiding in the cellar under the impression that the Poles have taken the town, Gerard convinces him to exchange uniforms with him and makes his escape, uttering a few words of Russian he learned from Sophie as he passes some Prussian guards. After another run-in with yet another mounted Prussian soldier, Gerard makes his way to Paris and delivers the letter to the perplexed Joseph Bonaparte and Talleyrand. Joseph orders Gerard to change back to a proper uniform and to report back to Napoleon.

Napoleon and Berthier are incredulous upon Gerard's return, and an angry Napoleon dresses Gerard down for not understanding the purpose of his mission. The letter he carried contained false information, and Napoleon had intended for Gerard to be captured in order to mislead the enemy. As Napoleon had planned, Major Charpentier had surrendered to the first Cossack he had met, and Napoleon orders Berthier to see that the Major is awarded his medal. Gerard tears up as his beloved Emperor berates him for messing up his plans, and tells Napoleon that if he had known that he was supposed to let the enemy capture him, he would have let them, but thinking that he was doing what the Emperor had wanted, he had risked his life to complete his mission. Napoleon has a change of heart and tells Berthier to see that Gerard receives a special Medal of Honor—because although the Brigadier has the thickest head, he also has the stoutest heart in all the Army.

Later, a proud and preening Gerard, the new medal shining on his breast, returns to keep his assignation with Sophie. But when he gets there he meets her mistress, the Comtesse d'Angennes, and goes off with her instead.




C

omment: This thirty-minute TV play was based on the first of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Brigadier Gerard stories, published in the December 1894 edition of The Strand magazine under the title The Medal of Brigadier Gerard, which was retitled How the Brigadier Won His Medal for publication in book form. Having just 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, naive, 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 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, Doyle sold another nine stories between January 1900 and May 1903. A last follow-up story was published in September 1910, and Doyle wrote a play based on the character that was produced in 1903 and again with revisions in 1906. Etienne Gerard also shows up as a supporting character in Conan Doyle's 1897 historical novel, Uncle Bernac.

The first film to feature the character was Brigadier Gerard (1915), which was based on the 1906 version of Doyle's play. The survival status of this film is reported as "unknown" on the Silent Era web site. The next Gerard film was the 1927 silent film, The Fighting Eagle, starring screen idol Rod La Rocque as Brigadier Gerard and Max Barwyn as Napoleon. This film was also adapted from Conan Doyle's 1906 play, with additions and alterations by Douglas Z. Doty, and was released as Le Brigadier Gérard in France in 1928 with newly shot close-ups of French actor Émile Drain replacing Max Barwyn as Napoleon. The only other film based on Conan Doyle's Gerard stories is 1970's The Adventures of Gerard, though it has been reported that another film is currently in development and is expected to feature The Office's Steve Carell as Gerard.

Schlitz Playhouse's version of the story is quite faithful to Conan Doyle's original. The major changes are the addition of the bookending bits with Sophie and her mistress (in the story, Sophie is only referred to by Gerard), and the elimination of a few minor characters and additional adversaries faced by Gerard on his trip to Paris (presumably cut for budgetary reasons). As it turns out, these changes effectively make the story work a bit better as a TV play.

Claude Dauphin was a French actor who appeared in over 130 roles on film and TV, and appeared in at least two other episodes of the Schlitz Playhouse. His Gerard is near perfect, brilliantly capturing the character's vainglorious braggadocio and sweet innocence. Character actor Booth Colman, perhaps better known as Dr. Zaius in the 1974 Planet of the Apes TV series, makes a fine Napoleon, quickly sketching the Emperor's commanding presence and quick temper, as well as his charisma and ability to charm, in the two brief scenes in which he appears. Although the Golden Age of Television nature of this episode makes it a bit dated for modern audiences, it is still quite enjoyable and an excellent introduction to Conan Doyle's series of Brigadier Gerard stories.


H

istorical Context: Our story takes place in March 1814. After having lost a large portion of his army in the 1812 retreat from Russia, Napoleon found himself on the defensive as the Sixth Coalition, made up of Russia, Prussia, Austria, Sweden, Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal, pressed in around him. Although he won a number of battles, the forces were overwhelming, and the end was near. Conan Doyle was a keen student of history, and How the Brigadier Won his Medals fits in well with the events that were actually happening. The only thing that seems a bit out of place is Napoleon's reference to his brother Joseph as the King of Spain. Although Joseph had been the King of Spain, he had been forced to abdicate in 1813. While Napoleon's pride may have caused him to continue to refer to Joseph as the King of Spain, the title was an anachronism by 1814.

Availability: How the Brigadier Won his Medals is not officially available on video, but I have been told that one may obtain a copy from a gentleman on iOffer. You might want to search for Schlitz Playhouse and see what you get. The episode titles aren't listed, so make sure you confirm that it is available with the seller before purchase.

References: IMDb; Wikipedia; Goldfarb, Clifford S. The Great Shadow: Arthur Conan Doyle, Brigadier Gerard and Napoleon Ashcroft, British Columbia, Canada. Calabash Press, 1997.



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© 2010 by Clark J. Holloway.