The French, They Are a Funny Race

The French, They Are a Funny Race — known in France as Les Carnets du Major Thompson (The Notebooks of Major Thompson) and in the U.K. as The Diary of Major Thompson — is a 1955 comedy film written and directed by Preston Sturges, based on the novel by Pierre Daninos, and starring Jack Buchanan and Martine Carol.

The French, They Are a Funny Race
(Les Carnets du Major Thompson)
poster for the French release
Directed byPreston Sturges
Produced byAlain Poiré
Paul Wagner
Written byPierre Daninos (novel)
Preston Sturges (screenplay)
StarringJack Buchanan
Martine Carol
Music byGeorges Van Parys
CinematographyMaurice Barry
Jean Lallier
Christian Matras
Edited byRaymond Lamy
Distributed byContinental Dist.
Release date
9 December 1955 (France)
20 May 1957 (NYC)
Running time
105 minutes

This was the last film directed by Preston Sturges as well as the last film for actor Jack Buchanan before his death from spinal cancer on 20 October 1957.


Major Thompson (Jack Buchanan) is a crusty, middle-aged English officer, retired and widowed and living in Paris, who tries to adjust to the French way of life. He falls in love with frivolous but alluring Martine (Martine Carol), and then marries her. The question is, will their child be raised as a proper Englishman, or a swinging Frenchman?[2][3]



The film was based on a popular column by Pierre Daninos in Le Figaro. Daninos would write as fictitious English Major Marmaduke Thompson who would observe the French. Daninos then turned these columns into a book The Notebooks of Major Thompson.[1]

Preston Sturges had come to Paris in hopes of reviving his career, which had hit the skids in Hollywood after his partnership with Howard Hughes dissolved in acrimony. He did some work on Broadway, wrote the screenplay for an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's The Millionairess which Katharine Hepburn, who had performed in the play in New York, wanted to get produced, and then came to France where, because he was fluent in French, he was able to write and direct the screenplay for this adaptation of Pierre Daninos popular novel.[4][5]

Sturges originally wrote a script called Forty Million Frenchmen, about a French author who invents an English character who assumes a borrowed identity. However, Daninos published his novel with such success that Sturges was requested to write a version closer to that. The movie was shot both in French and English using two crews.[1]

Release and Reception

The film was released in France on 9 December 1955, but Sturges did some additional polishing of it for the American audience, and it was not released in the United States until 20 May 1957, when it premiered in New York City,[6] the final American opening of Sturges' film career.

The movie was the 9th most popular film in France in 1956 but was not a hit in the US.[7]


  1. Nat Segaloff, Final Cuts: The Last Films of 50 Great Directors, Bear Manor Media 2013 p 281-283
  2. TCM Overview
  3. Erickson, Hal Plot synopsis (Allmovie)
  4. Preston Sturges at Senses of Cinema: Great Directors Critical Database
  5. Preston Sturges Timeline
  6. Crowther, Bosely (May 21, 1957). "Screen: Mellow Sturges; 'French Are a Funny Race' at the Baronet". The New York Times.
  7. Curtis, James (1984). Between Flops: A Biography of Preston Sturges. Limelight. p. 274.
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