Perhaps it was in retaliation for those fried potatoes that are served up in little bags and cartons at McDonald’s that they did it, that they performed an act which is so horribly outlandish. The French, those in question, have always been a very proud people; nowadays, the word French in English seems to be nothing more than a prefix for the word fries, and all because of the activities that go on below the golden arches that have sprouted up throughout the nominally civilized world. What an insult to a people who were once most concerned with linguistic purity. So, in response, it seems, the French recently awarded Jerry Lewis—comedian, actor, writer, director, and star of readily forgotten films including Cinderfella, The Patsy, and Boeing Boeing—the Legion of Honor. While the French, at least according to American news reports, genuinely admire Jerry, it is inconceivable that they are sincere; there must be a method to their madness. The extraordinarily high honor was, no doubt, bestowed on Jerry so that Americans would be forced to respect the man for his cinematic cutups, not simply his charitable activities. After all, if those in the land of Derrida and Foucault say something is so, is it not?

The reason I suspect a quasi-diplomatic fast one in the case of M. Lewis is Les Compéres, a light comedy of modern manners (what there are left of them) by Francis Veber. Lewis is certainly the doyen of contemporary American cinematic comedians; his broad farcical, slapstick, and buffoon-like activities are aped by the Steve Martins and Chevy Chases. Belushi would have been just another overweight fallguy if Lewis hadn’t blazed a path with a flamethrower through the film vaults full of intelligent comedy (e.g., Horse Feathers is an intelligent comedy: hilarious without being stupid; The Nutty Professor is simply a crime against taste). Les Compéres the plot of which is drafted in such a way that the comedic elements could be excised yet a sensible feature would remain, evokes a queasy feeling when it is thought of with regard to Hollywood. To be sure, this is not Molière, yet at least this tale of two could-be fathers in search of the teenaged boy who could be the son of either (part of the comedy turns on each man’s belief that he’s the sire, particularly since they are emotionally and ideologically different, yet neither is a cartoon-like bigot a la virtually all the characters in the works of Mel Brooks) seems as if it was created by a man who is cognizant of the fact that there once was a Molière. Americans, on the other hand, are stuck with comedies that are inspired by a stumbling and giggling human whoopie cushion.