carabiniers, Falscappa, Gilbert and Sullivan, Henchmen, Jacques Offenbach, Les Brigands, Major General, Minions, Pirate King, The Keystone Cops, The Pirates of Penzance
As ever, dear readers, welcome. In our last, entitled “Henchmen and Minions”, we had a brief look at henchmen—that is, the servants—in groups—of evil-doers, from orcs
to Imperial stormtroopers.
These were a grim lot, doing their masters’ work and showing no signs of remorse or regret and mostly very competent at doing so.
In this posting, we thought that we would take the opposite tack and look at minions—for our purposes, we’ll define them as the Light Side of the Dark Side. Often, unlike Sauron or Cardinal Richelieu in our last post, their bosses are hardly the object of fear themselves.
We begin with two combinations of comic ineptitude: government mounted police vs bandits and policemen vs pirates.
In 1869, Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)
composed the music for Les Brigands (“The Bandits”).
The plot concerns the adventures of a group of Italian banditti, led by a chief called Falsacappa, (“Fake Cape”, suggesting that he’s only wearing the costume of a bandit and is, in fact, someone not so bold?)
who are scheming to pull off a major heist. Here (along with that of Falsacappa) are some of the original costume designs.
These bandits talk (and sing) as if they were blood-thirsty killers, mostly, but that seems to be all that they do, except indulge in petty crime. Their opponents, the carabiniers (here’s an original design for their uniforms),
the ancestors of the modern carabinieri,
although the costume design makes them look much more like French Napoleonic carabiniers,
a pair of cavalry units, rather than mounted police, are even less impressive. In fact, as they march onstage, they recite this (our crude translation):
“Nous sommes les carabiniers, gauche, gauche
La sécurité des foyers, gauche, gauche
Mais, par un malheureux hasard,
Au secours des particuliers
Nous arrivons toujours trop tard…”
“We are the carabiniers, left, left.
The security of homes, left, left.
But, by an unhappy chance,
In helping private citizens,
We always arrive too late.”
They are also so loud as they tramp along that they always alert criminals that they are coming (and there’s a song about that)—just look at this sheet music cover to give you an idea.
As for a leader, he seems just to blend in with his hapless men.
In 1871, WS Gilbert (1836-1911)
of (eventual) Gilbert and Sullivan (1842-1900) operetta fame,
published a translation of Les Brigands, which became the standard 19th-century translation. The characters in the Offenbach clearly also influenced Gilbert, who, in 1879, created The Pirates of Penzance.
Led by a Pirate King, who looks the part, but…
the plot concerns some extremely tender-hearted pirates, who, being orphans themselves, always let people—and ships—go if the crews claim to be orphans.
Their opponents, who appear to be Metropolitan policemen (“Bobbies/Peelers”),
are extremely timid and jump at the slightest sound—which is not surprising, as their chief is an elderly major general whose greatest claim is that he knows everything about war—except for war.
Inept or timid policemen seem to be very popular as minions—early film featured The Keystone Cops from 1912-1917.
If earlier figures, like the carabiniers and the Gilbert and Sullivan police were dim or fraidy-cats, the Keystone Cops were an absolute disaster, causing more problems than they ever solved–
which brings us to our last exhibit
and perhaps enough said.
Thanks for reading, as always, and, as always,
If you would like to see the Keystone Cops in action, here’s a LINK to one of their films, “For Better But Worse” at the Internet Archive.
(There are more there.)