Madame Sans-Gene (Madame) (1962)




Director:     Christian -Jaque. 

Starring:     Sophia Loren (Catherine Hubscher, dite "Madame Sans-GLne"),  Robert Hossein (Franois-Joseph Lefebvre),  Renaud Mary (Fouch),  La Gray,  Gianrico Tedeschi  (Roquet),  Marina Berti (Elisa Bonaparte),  Enrique vila (Fricasse),  Carlo GiuffrP (Jrme),  Fernando Sancho (Pommier),  Bruno Carotenuto,  Gabriella Pallotta (HloVse),  Clina Cly (Ziguette),  Anala Gad (Caroline Bonaparte), Ida Galli,  Silvia Solar (Margot).

wife of Marshal Lefebvre, one of Napoleon's generals and Marshal of France, , who constantly gets him into trouble with her crude, down-to-earth manners



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

August 9, 1792.  King Louis XVI is still sitting on his moth-eaten throne.  The people of Paris are getting ready to overthrow it. 

The news of the day is that the Austrians are coming to the King's rescue and they threaten to burn Paris.  The people demand the King's removal. 

A soldier shouts to Catherine:  "You coming?  We're taking the Tuileries."   Catherine, a local washerwoman with her service very near the royal Tuileries Palace, is not going to come.  The soldiers bring up a cannon, put one of its wheels gets stuck in a hole in the street.  Catherine finds this very funny and laughs and laughs.  She then helps the men push the cannon out of the hole.  (She is a bit man-handled in the effort.)  There are 2,000 Swiss guards at the palace.  Catherine walks over the the palace gates to look at the Swiss Guard.  The soldiers place a cannon in her courtyard area where she does her washing.  She protests and when she gets no satisfaction she goes to speak with Napoleon Bonaparte, one of her delinquent customers.  He tells her that she should be happy to host the soldiers and the cannon.  He goes out to have a look.  Instead of moving the cannon away from her place of work, he puts it more centrally in the work place.  Then he has the soldiers take down the gates so they would not be in the way of any cannonball.  Napoleon leaves.  Catherine is both shocked and mad. 

A messenger rides up and shouts:  "By the order of the Commune of Paris, the assault will be launched tomorrow morning."  Catherine starts flirting with Sgt. Lefebvre.  He asks her if, in case of his death, she would take care of his cat.  She wanted to talk about something other than cats.  She gives him a kiss and leaves. 

In the morning the crowds and soldiers move forward to the palace.  Lefebvre lights the cannon fuse.  The cannon barrel explodes leaving the weapon completely useless.  Lefebvre kisses Catherine and runs toward the palace.  Firing starts and some men on the street are hit and fall.  Catherine is very worried about Lefebvre and she heads toward the palace.  She is stopped when bullets nearly hit her.  The palace is taken!  There is a great deal of rejoicing.  Following the battle, Lefebvre and Catherine lay in bed together.  She eats an apple.  Lefebvre explains to her that France is at risk because the royalty of the other countries are worried about revolutionary fever reaching their borders.  France has to be defended and he has to go fight.  The time has come for him to leave.  He kisses Catherine good-bye.  Napoleon talks with her to say good-bye.  He has his sister Elisa with him.  He is taking her to Corsica.  This upsets Catherine and she tells him that he is not fit for command.  Napoleon simply agrees with her and he and his sister leave.  After he leaves, Catherine sighs:  "Poor man.  I feel sorry for him." 

Four years later "the poor guy" was Chief General of the Italian army.  Catherine jumps in the back of a supply wagon in order to be near her husband.  She is mad at Napoleon because in four years she only saw her man once, just long enough to marry him.  She thought he was still with the Rhine army, but he was transferred to Italy.  Catherine accompanies a group of prostitutes as they are taken to the soldiers.  When she arrives at the encampment, she starts searching for Lefebvre.  She follows a prostitute to be given to Lefebvre.  She sends the woman away and sits on the bed with her back to her husband's office.  Lefebvre comes over and kisses her on the neck.  She turns and slaps him.  She calls him a bastard and leaves. 

Lefebvre chases after her.  She heads into an orchard.  Lefebvre finally catches up with her.  Meanwhile, the couple has been spotted by a group of Austrian soldiers.  They surround and then take the pair captive.  They are taken to the Austrian encampment and placed in an old mill. 

Napoleon arrives at the French encampment and finds everyone dancing.  He lets the dancing continue, but wants to know who is in charge.  Lefebvre is out and the second in command is also missing.  Therefore, only the sergeant is in command.  Napoleon is bemused and angry.  He gives orders to shoot Lefebvre at dawn the next day. 

The Austrians threaten to execute Lefebvre and his wife if they don't give them the information they want.  When the pair is alone, Catherine lifts the lever to start the grist mill revolving.  Lefebvre cuts off his ropes by holding them up against the revolving stone.  They then proceed to the attic.  From there they jump onto the revolving blades of the mill.  Lefebvre is able to knock out two of the officers in reach of the blade he is riding on.  They pull the officers into the mill.  They then find the store of gunpowder.  Soldiers are grabbing bags of gunpowder to take to the cannon.  As they leave the storage area, Catherine and her husband use the officers' swords to puncture the bags.  This leaves trails of gunpowder to the artillery.  Lefebvre lights the gunpowder trails and soon the explosions begins.  This creates mass chaos among the troops and they flee the encampment.  Napoleon hears the mighty explosions and decides to attack the Austrians immediately.  Napoleon and his staff ride to the mill.  There he finds Lefebvre who explains that he is with the 13th Battalion, Augereau Division and is responsible for the explosions and the route of the Austrians.  In gratitude Napoleon promotes him to Colonel.  

Napoleon rises fast.  He becomes First Consul, Consul for life, First Emperor and master of all Europe.  He watches and listens when his three sisters and his brother Jerome start fighting over the division of the spoils between various family and non-family members.  The gist is that they want more.  Napoleon becomes angry.   He says, so Lucien is an ingrate; Joseph a libertine, Louis a cripple and Jrme a mischief.  He chases them all out.  

Lafebvre and Catherine are named the Duke and Duchess of Danzig. Adviser Fouch brings in a man to teach the pair etiquette.  Catherine is taught how to curtsey.  Fouch tells the couple that they will be attending a reception in three days.  It's an order from Napoleon!  Fouch tells Catherine to watch out for Napoleon's sisters.  They are opposed to her being the Dutchess of Danzig.  At the ball, everyone watches Catherine to see if she messes up.  Her husband is taken away to see Napoleon.  Fouch introduces her to some of the women at the ball.  Napoleon wants Lefebvre to take the Crown of Westphalia. 

Catherine has them all laughing.  She talks about washing Napoleon's shirts in the early days.  The sisters frown at this.  Then she starts talking about the early years of many of Napoleon's most esteemed staff members.  Fouch warns her about her conduct, but she just ignores him.  She makes the sisters so angry that they get up and leave and Jrme accompanies them.  The sisters complain to Napoleon.  Later the great commander defends Catherine's behavior saying that his sisters probably deserved it.  But this attitude quickly reverses, when the foreign press picks up the "scandal".  They say that King Lefebvre is a buffoon and Queen Catherine a fishwife.  And they make fun of Napoleon. 

Napoleon gets on his horse for a ceremony.  He looks at his three sisters.  Catherine yells out to her hubby when he comes out on his horse.  Napoleon has Lefebvre comes speak with him.  Lefebvre rides up to him and Napoleon tells him that he wants him to divorce his wife.  He will marry the Margrave of Sandomir.  Later Lefebvre gives the bad news to his wife.  Catherine is very upset with him because he did not stand up for her to the emperor.  A servant comes to tell Lefebvre that everyone is waiting for him.  Catherine tells her husband:  "Go fetch your crown!"  Lefevbre has to sit across from a pretty blonde.  He asks someone who she is and is informed that the lady is his future wife. 

Catherine gets angrier and marches into Napoleon's office.  She starts to shout at him, but he shouts louder and more often.  Catherine asks the emperor to return Lefebvre to her.  She explains that she was in the French army as well as her husband.  She was a camp cook on the 15th line.  Napoleon asks:  "You fought?"  Yes and she was even decorated after receiving her second wound.  Napoleon accepts her story, saying about her language:  "You speak like a soldier!"  She tells Napoleon that she was a laundress and even washed the emperor's clothes.  He asks:  "At the Patriotes Hollandais Hotel?"  Yes.  Now he recognizes her.  They laugh about the old times, especially about the exploding cannon.  Napoleon wonders who was the idiot who lit the cannon fuse.  It was Lefebvre she says.  They laugh. 

Lefebvre enters the room and Catherine hides herself.  He has come to beg out of the whole king thing.  He wants to resign, saying:  "I love my wife."  Napoleon makes Catherine's presence known.  The emperor decides not to press for the divorce.  He says:  " . . . your audience is concluded."    The couple leave. 


 I had low expectations for the movie, but after I did some research I learned that all the characters were real as well as many of the events.  Therefore, I would say the movie is pretty good.  In part is it a romantic comedy about the escapades of a very outspoken woman who keeps getting her husband in trouble.  Sophia Loren was very sexy and good as Catherine, a woman who never forgot she was once a laundress.  Julien Bertheau was also good as Napolon Bonaparte. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

1755 (October 25)  --  Franois Joseph Lefebvre,  the future1st Duc de Dantzig (Danzig  -- Gdansk, Poland) and Marshal of France (one of 26 Marshals) during the Napoleonic Wars, was born in Alsace.  His father was a Hussar.  .

1773  --  he enlisted in the French army at the age of 18.

1783  --  he marries Cathrine Hubscher (who was also born in Alsace).  She was born in 1753, making her some two years older than her husband.  She was employed as a maid in Paris, but worked her way up to be an owner of a clothes washing service. Her service was very close to the Palace of The Tuleras.  Later Napoleon was one of her delinquent clients.

1789  --  the French Revolution.  Lefebvre was a sergeant in the Gardes Franaises and he (and most of the regiment) joined the Revolution.

Catherine accompanied her husband in all his campaigns, helping by cooking, washing and serving as a priest to the wounded.  (She was wounded in Forbach, a town in France near the German border, and decorated for her bravery.)

1793  --  Lefebvre was promoted to Brigadier General.

1794 (June 24)  --  he fought in the Battle of Fleurus, where French forces under Jourdan defeated an Austrian army under Saxe-Cobourg in a decisive battle in the Low Countries.

1797 (September)  --  following the death of  General Louis Lazare Hoche, he was given command of the Army of Sambre-et-Meuse.

1799 (March)  --  he commanded the vanguard of the Army of the Danube under Jourdan.

1799  --  he was a commander of the Paris troops.

1799  --  Lefebvre supported Napoleon Bonaparte's coup.

1800  --  appointed senator.

1804  --  became marshal of the Empire. Lefebvre commanded a division of the Armed Guard in the German campaign.

1806 (October 14)  --  at Jena he commanded the infantry of the Imperial Guard. (The two battles of Jena and Auerstedt, fought on the plateau west of the river Saale in today's Germany, gave Napoleon I a great victory over Frederick William III of Prussia. This eliminated Prussia from the fourth anti-French coalition until the liberation war of 1813.)

1807  --  he led a difficult siege and then took Danzig. Given the title of Duc de Dantzig. (Napoleon was irritated by Lefebvre's rather rude manners and by those of his wife. Catherine was famous for her plain speaking ways, coarse language of the streets, her great vitality and utter frankness.  She never forgot her humble origins as a washerwoman. Her nickname of  "Madame Sans-Gne", "Inconsiderate Lady", was given posthumously to her by the actor Victorien Sardou.)

She had a tremendous row with Napoleon when he pressured Lefebvre to divorce her. In the row she reminded him that he still had not paid his laundry bills from the time of the Revolution. Napoleon paid his debt: 

1808  --  participated in the Peninsula War with Spain, Britain and Portugal against France on the Iberian Peninsula, 1807-1814.

1808  --  lived in a small palace on Cherche-Midi street in Paris.

1809  --  he commanded the Bavarian army in Eckmhl and Wagram.

1809  --  defeated by Andreas Hofer who led a rebellion against Napoleon in Tyrol.  Lefebvre was replaced.

1812-1814  --  he commanded the Old Guard in Russian, German and French campaigns.

He voted the Emperor's deposition at the Senate.

1814 (June 4)  --  made Peer of France by Louis XVIII (who ruled 1814 to his death in 1824).

He rallied to Napoleon during the Hundred Days (March 20 to July 8, 1815).

During the second Restoration, he was excluded from the House of Peers.

1819 (March 5)  --  Louis XVIII gave him back his peerage.

1820  (September 14)  --  death of Lafebvre.  He was buried near Andr Massna at the PPre-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.

1835  --  Catherine died fifteen years after the death of her husband.  (She had 14 children, but only two who survived childhood.)


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