film 4 of 8


Draft Review by Dean Duncan Jul 16, 2015

Tremendously enjoyable conscious hokum, or starting hokey at least, but ending plain great, lots of beautiful colours and costumes, the mistaken identity, misapprehension goings on (she’s my sister; no, he’s my brother) are just familiar and just surprising enough, the design is ravishing (especially the chaste and textured fencing studio), the cinematography worthy of the guy who shot Sunrise, and the actors dispatch 90s cynicisms with surprising ease; Granger’s a special surprise, as the early scamp and bluster quickly turns into real charm, physical grace and nobility to go with the potentially stolid handsomeness, Janet Leigh’s pure and charming, the ubiquitous eyebrows notwithstanding, Richard Anderson’s killed off mercifully quickly, Mel Ferrer turns out to be much more interesting than that brother I could never distinguish him from, and his introduction as he casually kills off a couple of guys sets us firmly against him, which serves the film beautifully throughout, Lewis Stone is a nice echo from the even better silent version, and Eleanor Parker, as much of a vampish cliché as she is, foreshadows the decade’s bosomly preoccupations, exudes at least a degree of sensuality, and suggests all kinds of intriguing things about the lot, cinematic and otherwise, of women in the early 1950s; strange and frightening how this woman beating stuff is taken for an amusing convention of romantic comedy (cf. Kiss Me Kate, etc., though I guess it is a convention, in addition to the things that modern sensibilities suggest), the commedia routines start as effective recreations of rural theatrical shab (cf. Nicholas Nickleby) and then, when the troupe gets its Paris gig, end up being wonderful routines in and of themselves; the swordfights are superbly utilized as structuring devices: as Moreau’s fencing improves, so does his character, the fights themselves are completely impressive, full of great ringing sound effects and beautiful choreography, as well as convincingly sharp swords and dazzling play between them, the assembly montage as Moreau approaches his enemy by knocking off the lesser aristocrats has a poetic cleverness reminiscent of silent costume glories (like the first version of this film) the last huge duel is the best, as the fine execution is matched by a satisfyingly unlikely display of courage and mercy; the coda is fine cheese, with the exploding bouquet giving way to the fascinatingly inexplicable appearance of Napoleon with Parker, suggesting I suppose the revolutionary possibilities of tartism