Menjou, Adolphe


Menjou, Adolphe
(1890–1963)
   Adolphe Menjou was born in Pittsburgh on February 18, 1890. He was educated at Culver Military Academy in Indiana and studied engineering at Cornell University. In 1911 he moved to New York City, where he began his film career in 1914 at the Vitagraph Studios. After serving in World War I from 1917 to 1919 in the ambulance corps, he resumed his film career. He made a name for himself in A Woman of Paris (1923), a serious drama directed by Charles Chaplin, in which Chaplin did not star. He worked for other great directors, such as Ernst Lubitsch in The Marriage Circle (1924) and D. W. Griffith in The Sorrows of Satan (1927), in which he played Satan. Menjou often played dapper, debonair gentlemen, and he reinforced this screen image by maintaining an elegant wardrobe which gained him the reputation as one of America’s best-dressed men. He slipped into supporting roles in the 1940s and 1950s, including a fine performance as a crooked politician in Frank Capra’s State of the Union (1948), opposite Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. The cold war period that followed World War II spawned Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anticommunist witch hunt and the hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Adolphe Menjou was one of the “friendly witnesses” who testified early in the proceedings; these friendly witnesses declared their patriotism in ringing terms, with Menjou stating wryly that he intended to “move to Texas because I believe the Texans would shoot Communists on sight. ” One of his last roles was in PATHS OF GLORY (1957). When STANLEY KUBRICK asked the 68-year-old actor to play General Broulard, the commander of the French forces during World War I, Menjou hesitated to do so. As a graduate of a military academy, a veteran of World War I, and a political conservative, he was chary about appearing in an antiwar film. But Kubrick convinced Menjou that his part would dominate the picture. Kubrick even advised Menjou that Broulard is a good general who does his best in trying to cope with the pressures of command. Actually, Kubrick was selling Menjou a bill of goods. Broulard is really a sly and crafty officer, who manipulates his subordinates to his own advantage. Kubrick knew that if Menjou saw Broulard in this light that he would not have accepted it. So Kubrick provided him only with the pages of the script in which he had dialogue.
   During shooting at Geiselgasteig Studios in Munich, Menjou reportedly grew impatient with Kubrick’s desire for several retakes on a scene. He became angry when the director insisted after 17 takes on doing the scene yet another time. Menjou blew a fuse and made some condescending references to the 29-year-old director’s inexperience “in the art of directing actors. ” Kubrick listened in courteous silence and then explained in measured tones,“It isn’t right, and we are going to keep doing it until it is right; and we will get it right, because you guys are good!” By that time Menjou’s anger was spent, and he went on with the scene. For his part, Menjou said after completing the picture that Kubrick reminded him of Chaplin, because Kubrick, like Chaplin, always took into consideration the actor’s suggestions while working out a scene; and, like Chaplin, Kubrick believed that the director should have the final say. Moreover, according to VINCENT LOBRUTTO’s Kubrick biography, Menjou asserted that Kubrick was more like Chaplin than any other director he knew. “He’ll be one of the ten best directors,” he concluded, by the time Kubrick finished another picture. Paths of Glory opens with the “La Marseillaise,” played in an ominous minor key, accompanying the credits, after which the music gives way to the insistent sound of snare drums. A title appears on the screen: “France, 1916. ” It is superimposed on a shot of the grand château where French army officers live in luxury while the soldiers die amid the mud and barbed wire of the trenches. A narrator speaks his opening piece and disappears: “War began between Germany and France on August 3, 1914. By 1916, after two years of grisly trench warfare, the battle lines had changed very little. . . . Successful attacks were measured in hundreds of yards—and paid for by hundreds of thousands of lives. ”
   While this commentary is being spoken, a squad of soldiers takes its place in two columns at the front door of the château, and an open car drives in the front gate, stopping at the door. General Broulard emerges. The handsome general’s elegant manner belies his callous and ruthless nature. Broulard seems to belong to the château’s sumptuous setting as he lounges in an ornate chair and toys with the barely concealed hopes of the ambitious General Mireau (GEORGE MACREADY) for a promotion. By the most adroit coaxing, Broulard is able to manipulate Mireau into agreeing to launch what amounts to a suicidal charge against an impossibly fortified enemy stronghold called the Ant Hill as the first step in an all-out offensive.
   Broulard begins by softening Mireau with compliments: “This is a splendid, superb place, Paul. I wish I had your taste in carpets and pictures. ” The charming, corrupt Broulard patronizes Mireau, comments critic Robert Kolker,“intending to cajole and bribe him to lead his troops to disaster. ” He tells Mireau that he has a top-secret matter to discuss with him, a task which he is sure that Mireau can handle for him. Mireau at first hesitates when he hears about the contemplated onslaught on the Ant Hill, though Broulard assures him that he is the only man who can see it through. “You know the condition of my troops,” Mireau explains. “My division has been cut to pieces. We are not in a position to hold the Ant Hill, let alone take it. ”
   “I had better not bring up the other thing that was on my mind,” says Broulard coyly, preparing to needle Mireau where he is most vulnerable. “If I mention it now you will misunderstand; you might think that I was trying to influence your decision. But as your friend maybe I should tell you that the Twelfth Corps needs a fighting general and you are long overdue for that extra star. If you captured the Ant Hill, the Twelfth Corps would be yours. ” Having displayed token concern for his troops, Mireau’s tone gradually shifts to one of determination: “Nothing is beyond them once their fighting spirit is aroused. We might just do it!” Mireau finally agrees to the Ant Hill attack for, after all, it is not he but Colonel Dax (KIRK DOUGLAS) who will have to mount the actual attack and watch his men slaughtered. The attack on the Ant Hill inevitably fails; indeed, some of Dax’s troops are unable even to leave their trenches because of the heavy enemy bombardment. By field telephone, Mireau commands artillery commander Captain Rousseau to fire on those soldiers who failed to leave the trenches. He refuses to do so without a written order. Afterward, Mireau demands that, in order to restore military discipline, Broulard must set up a court-martial, whereby three soldiers will be tried for cowardice because they failed to leave their trenches during battle. Broulard appoints Dax to defend the scapegoats, and closes the conference by demurring from making an appearance at the court-martial in order to let Mireau handle the whole affair. In reality Broulard is shrewdly keeping his white-gloved hands from getting soiled by having any official connection with the proceedings. The verdict of the court-martial is a foregone conclusion, and the three men are sentenced to be shot by a firing squad.
   Dax, exhausted after the trying events of the day, lies down on his cot to rest when Rousseau, the captain of artillery, intrudes with information that he feels has some bearing on the court-martial. Startled, Dax is jolted into alertness. This new development serves as an injection of suspense into the action, allowing the audience to hope that justice may yet be done. Kubrick cuts to a glittering military ball being held at the château, apparently in the same gigantic room where the court-martial had taken place only a few hours earlier. Mireau is waltzing with a lady in a grand gown and Broulard is chatting with a couple when Dax asks to see him in the library. Never without his ready smile, Broulard greets Dax with the news that the records of casualties show that Dax’s men must have acquitted themselves well in the battle for the Ant Hill. This factor, however, is no reason why the execution should not go ahead as scheduled. With his customary mixture of charm and duplicity, Broulard tries to win Dax to his point of view. “We think we’re doing a good job running this war. The general staff is subject to all kinds of pressure from the press and from politicians. Perhaps it was an error of judgment to attack the Ant Hill. But if your men had been a little more daring, you might have taken it. We’ll never know. Why should the general staff have to bear more criticism than we have to? Besides, these executions will be a tonic for the entire division. There are few things more fundamentally encouraging and stimulating than seeing someone else die. Troops are like children; just as a child wants his father to be firm, so troops crave discipline. In order to maintain discipline, you have to shoot a man now and then. ”
   The staggering illogic of these remarks is all too obvious to Dax, but it is pointless to dispute with Broulard. The general turns to leave the room and Dax follows him. Both men recede into a long shot as they walk toward the door at the far end of the library. Dax nonchalantly mentions that he happens to have with him sworn statements by the men who witnessed Mireau’s command that the artillery gunners fire on their own trenches. As Broulard hears this, he slams shut the door through which he was about to exit and, in close-up, has a look of shock on his face that he cannot conceal.
   Broulard is already considering the wide-ranging implications of Dax’s revelation before the colonel can point out to him that the high command would not allow the execution to proceed if they knew that the same man who ordered the court-martial had already, earlier that same day, ordered his own soldiers to be shot in the trenches. “What would your newspapers and politicians make of that?” Dax concludes pointedly, employing Broulard’s own propensity for understatement. Typically, Broulard excuses himself with a noncommittal phrase about a host being too long away from his guests.
   Because we cannot as yet guess what steps Broulard will take to prevent Dax’s charges against Mireau from erupting into an international scandal, the execution sequence which follows opens with an air of suspense: the viewer wonders if Broulard will cancel the execution in order to keep the whole affair from coming to light. Broulard’s presence at the execution, however, is the filmgoer’s tipoff that Broulard has taken no action to stop the proceedings; there will be no last-minute rescue of the condemned. While breakfasting with Mireau and Dax the following morning, Broulard remarks in the most offhand manner imaginable,“By the way, Paul, Colonel Dax here has come to me with a story that you ordered your artillery to fire on your own men during the attack. ” Mireau, shattered that Broulard has found out, sputters about the falsity of the charges and Dax’s efforts to discredit him.
   Broulard continues, still urbane and smiling,“You can’t imagine how glad I am to hear that there is no truth at all in the charge, Paul. I’m certain that you’ll come through the hearing all right. The public soon forgets these things, and you deserve the chance to clear your name. ” As the specter of a public hearing rises before Mireau, he realizes that his career is ruined, regardless of the cheery terms in which Broulard has informed him of it.
   Broulard is always careful to arrange everything so that the blame for whatever might go wrong can be placed on someone other than himself. Broulard was willing to indulge even the neurotic Mireau’s ruthless tactics, so long as they brought success in battle and no embarrassment to himself. In order to save his own position, therefore, Broulard is completely prepared to let Mireau take the rap while he goes scotfree. “It had to be done,” shrugs Broulard. “France cannot afford to have fools guiding her military destiny. ” He then offers Dax Mireau’s command, jovially adding with a knowing look,“Don’t overdo the surprise, my boy; I know you’ve been maneuvering for his job from the start. ”That Broulard considered Dax an opportunist like himself was suggested the first time they met, when Broulard chided Mireau for not bringing such an up-and-coming young officer to his attention before. Hence Broulard has consistently mistaken Dax’s opposition to Mireau for a calculated attempt to take over his job. Broulard’s vision has been so totally corroded that he is no longer capable of recognizing integrity when he sees it. “I am not your boy,” Dax rejoins in contempt. “I certainly didn’t mean to imply any biological relationship,” Broulard returns defensively, commanding Dax to apologize instantly for telling him what he can do with the promotion. “I apologize,” Dax smolders; “I apologize for not revealing my true feelings sooner; for not calling you a degenerate, sadistic old man. ”
   Regaining his veneer of charm, which never deserts him for more than a second, the general replies smoothly, “Colonel Dax, you are a great disappointment to me. You’ve spoiled the keenness of your mind by sentimentality. You really did want to save those men, and you were not just angling for Mireau’s command. You are an idealist—and I pity you as I would the village idiot. We’re fighting a war that we’ve got to win. Those men didn’t fight, so they were shot. You bring charges against General Mireau and I insist that he answer them. ” Finally, he asks, “What have I done wrong?” Dax searches the elderly, distinguished face and gasps, “If you don’t know the answer to that question, I can only pity you. ” Adolphe Menjou accepted the role of Broulard from Kubrick, commenting, “I’ll be very interested to see how this picture turns out. ” Menjou figured out, as shooting progressed, that Broulard is a thorough hypocrite who systematically uses others for his own ends. He gave a superb portrayal of Broulard, but he never acknowledged to Kubrick or to anyone associated with the picture that Kubrick had hoodwinked him into taking the part by assuring him that Broulard was a sincere officer, though Kubrick certainly admits it in LoBrutto’s biography.
   Adolphe Menjou’s Broulard is one of the most subtle portraits of evil in all of cinema. The filmgoer can hardly resist being taken in by the general’s suave, engaging manner, in order to be able to realize that Broulard is no less ruthless than Mireau, only shrewd enough never to overplay his hand as Mireau has done; and he is for that reason all the more insidious. In Gene Phillips’s book on Alfred Hitchcock, Hitchcock explains why he always made his villains charming and polite (in the way that Broulard is): “It’s a mistake to think that if you put a villain on the screen, he must sneer nastily, stroke his mustache, or kick a dog in the stomach. The really frightening thing about villains is their surface likeableness. ” Hitchcock could well be describing Menjou’s Broulard, for Menjou played Broulard with all of the surface charm the role called for, and did a brilliant job which won him some of the best notices of his long career.
   Menjou did only one more film after Paths of Glory, Disney’s Pollyanna (1960), in which he played an elderly recluse. The film is noteworthy because it includes several veteran actors in the cast besides Menjou: Jane Wyman, Donald Crisp, and Agnes Moorhead. The last two of Menjou’s three marriages were to actresses: Kathryn Carver (1928–1933) and Verree Teasdale, from 1934 to his death at age 73. After completing Paths of Glory, Menjou added Kubrick’s name to the list of great directors (among them Charles Chaplin) he had worked with.
   References
   ■ Kolker, Robert, A Cinema of Loneliness, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 110–115;
   ■ LoBrutto, Vincent, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography (New York: Da Capo, 1999);
   ■ Phillips, Gene, Alfred Hitchcock (Boston: Twayne, 1984);
   ■ ———, Stanley Kubrick: A Film Odyssey (New York: Popular Library, 1977), pp. 43–60.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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