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The newly-named Emperor Maximillian, the only monarch of the Second Mexican Empire, arrives in Mexico in the early 1860s with his wife Carlotta to face popular sentiment favoring Benito Juarez and popular demand for democracy. With an elite group of Mexican monarchists, Maximillian tries to appease the democratic Mexicans but he fails. Abraham Lincoln continues to support Juarez and asks the French to withdraw support for Maximilian. Carlotta goes to France to plead with Napoleon III, to no avail. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
When Napoleon lll is informed in a letter that Robert E. Lee has been defeated at Gettysburg, he responds by paraphrasing Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address by calling democracy as government for the people, by the people, etc. He couldn't have known Lincoln's rhetorical flourish because the actual speech was given until mid November 1863. See more »
An amazing conflagration of actors populates the cast of 1939's "Juarez" -- Brian Aherne, Paul Muni, Bette Davis, Claude Rains, John Garfield, Gale Sondergaard, Donald Crisp, Gilbert Roland, and Louis Calhern. More amazing is the size of many of their roles - small! It shows that Warner Brothers put everything behind this epic film.
The story concerns the short reign of Maximilian von Hapsburg (Aherne) as Emperor of Mexico, seduced into taking the position by Napoleon III (Rains) who convinces him that the Mexican people want a monarchy. They don't. Opposing Maximilian is the man of the people, Benito Juarez (Muni), who has the support of the United States. Both Maximilian and Juarez want many of the same things, but Maximilian's hard work to unite the Mexican people and stop the fighting fails.
Though the title is "Juarez," the workhorse role belongs to the underrated Brian Aherne, an excellent actor from the theater who took second place to Errol Flynn at Warner Brothers. Though superstardom eluded him, he was a brilliant actor and a handsome man who turned in many great performances during a 43-year career. His Maximilian is gentle, likable, strong, and sympathetic. He gets third billing to Muni and Davis. Davis plays the Empress Carlota, Maximilian's wife. It's a secondary role but she has a huge, dramatic scene when Carlota returns to France to insist that Napoleon III keep his troops in Mexico. One of the best moments in the film is Carlota, going mad and believing the French court is trying to poison her, running out into the night, her white dress slowly disappearing. Davis wears magnificent gowns and has dark hair that seems to emphasize her huge eyes even more. She looks quite beautiful and gives a solid performance as a fragile woman devoted to her husband.
Paul Muni's Juarez is stiff, and he looks and acts as if he's embalmed. Muni was a great actor who delved deeply into his roles, and it's not clear what he was thinking when he gave this performance. Undoubtedly he had researched Benito Juarez to the ground and was giving an exact representation of him. But as Bette Davis once said, "True acting is larger than life." Muni needed something more for this role but doesn't supply it. John Garfield's Porfirio Diaz is odd casting. He makes a little attempt at an accent; underneath that dark makeup is still John Garfield. Supposedly his role was cut down. Back in 1939, audiences were just getting to know him, so his performance probably held up well back then. Nowadays one only thinks, "Why is John Garfield playing a Mexican?" "Juarez" is rich in detail - it occasionally is plodding and runs a bit long in an effort to supply the historic happenings. But it is well worth seeing for the performances, the story, and those Orry-Kelly gowns.
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