The highlight of last week was—no, not an old film that I watched at home, but a new film that I watched in a cinema theatre. The Artist. A couple of friends, both people with excellent taste in cinema, recommended it to me. So I wheedled my husband into coming to watch The Artist.
And, oh. What a film. What a wonderful combination of humour, emotion, heart-breaking sorrow—and hope. It’s been a long, long time since I saw a new film that made me gush so much. (Yes, well; that probably also had a lot to do with the fact that the gorgeous Jean Dujardin is very gushworthy).
The last film I reviewed, Kohinoor, was part swashbuckler, part romance and part political intrigue. So is Prince of Foxes (though this has none of the comedy that makes Kohinoor such an endearing film). Interestingly, though, that isn’t the only thing common between these two films. They also have one scene in common. It’s a fairly critical scene in the film, where the hero has been imprisoned and is dragged forward, chained and beaten, in an assembly presided over by the villain – who sentences the hero to death. A bystander, one with ample reason to resent the hero, steps forward and disputes the death sentence – simply because it’ll bring the hero’s life to a blessed, quick end. Why not prolong his agony instead? This bystander proposes a gruesome way to do it (the same way in both Kohinoor and Prince of Foxes), and offers to do it. With the exact same results in both films.
I did not supply the details in Kohinoor, and I won’t let the cat out of the bag here. Suffice to say: if you like swashbuckling historicals, this is one Hollywood film you should put on your list.
Der Tiger von Eschnapur and Das Indische Grabmal were, as Anu called them, ‘raja-rani’ (‘king-and-queen’) films, no matter how warped they may have been as examples of that genre. In line with my last post, therefore, here’s another film: also raja-rani, also set in the India of maharajas, evil plotters wanting to make a grab at a throne that’s not legitimately theirs, and a pretty lady at the heart of it all. Kohinoor, however, is a blessedly long way from Fritz Lang’s Indian epic. This film’s a rollicking farce mostly all through, with plenty of good songs, a great cast, and some superb comedy sequences.
It was said, at one time, that if Bette Davis was the queen of Warner Brothers, Errol Flynn was the king. And a king, too, with a lineage that was astounding, to say the least. The Tasmanian-born Flynn spent a few years as a young man in Papua New Guinea holding down jobs as varied (and in some cases illegal) as diamond smuggler, slave recruiter, gold prospector, sheep castrator, and manager of tobacco and coconut plantations, before washing up in the big bad world of cinema. Flynn’s first role was as his own ancestor, Fletcher Christian, a mutineer on the HMS Bounty; two years later, opposite Olivia de Havilland (who was a very distant relative of his), Flynn acted as the pirate Captain Blood—and the king of swashbucklers had arrived.
If there’s one film that’s quintessential Tyrone Power, it’s this one. The Mark of Zorro changed Tyrone Power from being just a pretty face to being a pretty face who could also do some very fancy stunts with a sword in hand. It made him a swashbuckling star, a stereotype that was to stick with him for a while, even though he tried to shake it off with roles like that in Nightmare Alley.
And what a film. What a rollicking, enjoyable, delightful film! I love every bit of it, and have been looking forward to sharing the joy with everybody ever since I first saw it, a few months back. So, without more ado, here goes.
I admire producers and directors who gamble on completely stereotyped stars and cast them in roles one normally wouldn’t associate with them. For instance, I would probably not have thought of casting Dean Martin, with his playboy image and his singing star persona, as the drunk and pathetic deputy in Rio Bravo. I may not have considered Doris Day (screwball comedy!) appropriate as the stalked woman in Midnight Lace. And I most certainly wouldn’t have thought of casting ace dancer Gene Kelly as the lead man in this entertaining swashbuckler, which doesn’t have a single dance.
The French Revolution’s been the setting for a handful of films, but I’ve got to admit I don’t much care for everything that’s been produced. For instance, A Tale of Two Cities—despite starring Dirk Bogarde—has too sad an end to invite repeated watching. The Scarlet Pimpernel, though definitely more entertaining, stars Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon, neither of whom tops my favourites list.
Scaramouche, with an oh-so-ooohh Stewart Granger in the title role, some absolutely unbeatable swordplay, lots of wit (plus two beautiful heroines), therefore wins hands down. You may not learn much about the French Revolution, but entertainment’s guaranteed.