Cherchez la femme

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Cherchez la femme (French: [ʃɛʁʃe la ˈfam]) is a French phrase which literally means "look for the woman."

Cherchez la femme in The Mohicans of Paris[edit]

The expression comes from the 1854 novel The Mohicans of Paris by Alexandre Dumas (père).[1] The first use in the novel reads:

Cherchez la femme, pardieu ! cherchez la femme ![2]

The phrase is repeated several times in the novel. Dumas also used the phrase in his 1864 theatrical adaptation, which reads:

Il y a une femme dans toutes les affaires ; aussitôt qu'on me fait un rapport, je dis : « Cherchez la femme ! »[3]

Translated into English this reads:

There is a woman in every case; as soon as someone brings me a report, I say, "Look for the woman!"

The phrase embodies a cliché of detective pulp fiction: no matter what the problem, a woman is often the root cause. The phrase has thus come to refer to explanations that automatically find the same root cause, no matter the specifics of the problem. In his 1963 detective novel The Chill, Ross Macdonald's sleuth Lew Archer offers a wry analysis of the concept, stating: "When a woman is murdered, you ask her estranged husband where he was at the time. It's the corollary of cherchez la femme."[4]

List of appearances in media[edit]

Films[edit]

In the 1931 film The Front Page, the security guard called "Woodenshoes"(Spencer Charters), is convinced that Molly Malloy (Mae Clark) is hiding escaped prisoner, Earl Williams (George E. Stone). He keeps trying to tell everyone while repeatedly adding, "Cherchez la Femme!"

In the beginning of the film Gold Diggers of 1937, Glenda Farrell says to the other chorus girls, "Girls, from now on, you're looking at a new Genevieve. A gal who starts with that old Mountie slogan, "Get your man." To which Joan Blondell replies, "And ends with the old police slogan, "Cherchez la femme."

The phrase is employed in the 1942 film Tales of Manhattan. In the mock trial of Avery L. 'Larry' Browne (Edward G. Robinson's character), the inebriated classmate interjects "Cherchez la femme". It also appears in the film Dr. No (1962).

The phrase appears in the 1958 film The Quiet American starring Michael Redgrave.[time needed]

The phrase appears in the film Carry On Doctor (1967), where Fred (Julian Orchard) uses it in a more literal sense, simply referring to looking for a woman who Ken (Bernard Bresslaw) has seen and taken a fancy to.

In the Albanian film Kapedani (eng. Captain) produced in 1972, actor Dario Llukaci acting as a taxi driver, mentions several times "Cherchez la femme" in the meaning "woman is the reason behind the quarrel".

This phrase is utilized in Chinatown (1974) by Mrs Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) in response to JJ Gittes's (Jack Nicholson) reason for leaving the police force. "Cherchez la femme. Was there a woman involved?"

In the 1978 Beatles parody film All You Need Is Cash (aka The Rutles), Mick Jagger is interviewed by Eric Idle, who asks, "Why did the Rutles break up?" Mick replies, "Women. Just women getting in the way. Cherchez la femme, you know."

The phrase occurs in the film Hopscotch in 1980 as Walter Matthau explains to a guy why he needs 500 dollars.

The phrase is used by Maggie Smith's character Daphne Castle[5] to Peter Ustinov's character Hercule Poirot in the 1982 film Evil Under the Sun, based on the novel by Agatha Christie, as they investigate the murder of Dianna Rigg's character Arlena Marshall.

In Frantic (1988), Harrison Ford's character Dr. Richard Wagner is talking to another doctor at "The Blue Parrot".

It also appears in the film Mallrats (1995) when Brodie, played by Jason Lee, spots his love interest, Rene, played by Shannon Doherty shopping in the mall.

Songs[edit]

The big band and swing-influenced disco band, Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, had a #1 U.S. dance hit, "Cherchez La Femme" (1976).

Ghostface Killah's song "Cherchez La Ghost" (2000) samples the Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band and interpolates the phrase.

The phrase is used by American rock musician Brendan Benson in the song "Biggest Fan" from The Alternative to Love

Video games[edit]

It also appears in the 2010 video game Fallout: New Vegas as a female character perk. In combat, the perk lets the player do +10% damage against female opponents. Outside of combat, the player will sometimes have access to unique dialogue options when dealing with the same sex.

In the Blizzard video game Overwatch, the French character Widowmaker has this phrase as an unlockable voice line.

Novels[edit]

The phrase appears in the novel Bluebeard (1987) by Kurt Vonnegut.

The 1987 James Ellroy novel The Black Dahlia features the line as a motif throughout, first spoken by Officer Lee Blanchard to the main detective, Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert, as a piece of advice. "Cherchez la femme, Bucky. Remember that." The line is repeated by Bucky's character throughout, and connects with its use in the rest of the genre.

Short stories[edit]

The phrase appears in the science-fiction short story "The Flowered Thundermug" by Alfred Bester. The phrase is spoken by a female character, alternatively named Violet Dugan/Audrey Hepburn. She is trying to hunt down a man who has, like herself, been transported five hundred years into a post-apocalyptic future by a freak accident. This man is the one who has stolen the "flowered thundermug," now considered a twentieth-century Americana antique, but originating from his own time period. Possibly he has a female interest that could provide a lead to his whereabouts.

Comic strip[edit]

Churchill "Churchy" LaFemme was the name of Pogo's turtle friend in Walt Kelly's comic strip Pogo.

TV series[edit]

The phrase appears in the episode Rin Tin Tin and the Wild Stallion of the American children's television program The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin.

The phrase is said by Maurice Minnifield (Barry Corbin) in the Northern Exposure episode "Only You" while talking to Chris Stevens (John Corbett (actor)).

In The West Wing Season 5, Episode 5, CJ Cregg makes the remark when talking about an old flame named Ben.

In the TV series La Femme Nikita (1997–2001) the theme music contains the lyrics "Cherchez la femme, cherchez la femme, dans la nuit, dans la nuit".[6]

In the TV series "Witchblade" (2001-2002) episode 3 Conundrum, Nottingham tells Sara "Cherchez la femme," to lead her to the killer she is seeking. Later he tells her "Cherchez la Jeune fille " (Find the young girl) referencing the next potential victim.[7]

In The Simpsons episode Viva Ned Flanders, Homer Simpson disparagingly refers to the very Christian Ned Flanders as ″Churchy La Femme″.[8]

In the TV series Perry Mason, The Case of the Married Moonlighter (first aired November 1958), actor Ray Collins as Lt. Tragg uses the phrase as he informs Perry Mason that a prospective witness suggested that for the real murderer.

In the New Year's Day edition of Sherlock Series 4 Episode 0 'The Abominable Bride' , (aired on BBC1,1 January 2016) the phrase was used by Holmes' brother Mycroft when Sherlock asks for assistance to dig up the corpse of Emelia Ricoletti. A parody of the phrase is also used in the Series 2, Episode 2, 'The Hounds of Baskerville,' where Sherlock states: 'Cherchez la chien.'

In the TV series iZombie, in a first season episode, a famous painter who was having an extramarital affair is murdered, and the main character is appalled when the police detective she works with says he automatically assumes the painter's wife is the prime suspect. He counters that in his professional experience, when a homicide victim was having an affair, nine times out of ten the murderer has in fact been the jealous wife - it is simply an example of Occam's Razor. He does then add, however, that in all fairness the exact same ratio is true for wives having extramarital affairs, whose murderers are usually their husbands. By the end of the episode, it is revealed that the painter was in fact murdered by his jealous wife.

In the NCIS Season 11, Episode 8, titled "Alibi", Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum) uttered the phrase to Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon), as the latter departed Autopsy. The body "Ducky" was examining had traces of Shalimar, a very expensive perfume.

Others[edit]

Cherchez La Femme is the name of a traveling Australian feminist activist media site based in Melbourne. It holds popular events in Melba Spiegeltent and has toured 5 states of Australia so far.[9]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Pierre L. Horn, ed., Handbook of French Popular Culture (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1991), ISBN 978-0313261213, p. 41. Excerpts available at Google Books.
  2. ^ Dumas, Alexandre (1871). Les Mohicans de Paris (in French). I. Paris: Michel Lévy frères, éditeurs. p. 232. Retrieved 2009-08-07. Cherchez la femme, pardieu ! cherchez la femme ! 
  3. ^ Dumas, Alexandre (1889). Théâtre complet (in French). XXIV. Paris: Michel Lévy frères, éditeurs. p. 103. Retrieved 2009-08-07. Il y a une femme dans toutes les affaires ; aussitôt qu'on me fait un rapport, je dis : « Cherchez la femme ! » 
  4. ^ Macdonald, Ross (1963), The Chill, p 175 of Vintage Books reissue edition ISBN 0679768076
  5. ^ "Daphne Castle (Character)". IMDb. 
  6. ^ "The Music FAQ". cusmus.angelfire.com. 
  7. ^ "Whoosh! Episode Guide: WITCHBLADE: CONUNDRUM (W02/102)". www.whoosh.org. 
  8. ^ "The Simpsons s10e10 Episode Script - SS". Springfield! Springfield!. 
  9. ^ Hoang, Davis. "Cherchez la Femme". cherchezlafemme.com.au. 

External links[edit]