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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Orry-Kelly designed costumes for Bette Davis which changed in tone as the film progressed: from white at the beginning, changing to gray in mid-film, and then to black at the end when she goes insane. See more »
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 cattle, by the cattle, etc. He couldn't have known Lincoln's rhetorical flourish because the actual speech was given until mid November 1863. See more »
JUAREZ, despite playing fast and loose with certain historical facts, is nevertheless rousing and sumptuous epic film-making about the struggle for justice - on the one hand by the Mexican people and on the other by their hapless monarch.
The people are represented by Paul Muni impersonating Mexican president Benito Juarez; his expressionless face and slow, monotonous line readings are almost laughable; he comes across as a sort of Unconquerable Zombie of the People. He almost always appears in the same frame as a portrait of his hero and contemporary, Abraham Lincoln. As others have pointed out, his most powerful moment comes when he walks purposefully toward a line of armed soldiers in one of those moments of truth at the core of all successful revolutions: the refusal of the armed forces to defend the established regime.
The hounded monarch, Archduke Maximilian, is played by Brian Aherne in what may well be the best casting he was ever assigned on film. His performance is letter perfect as the idealistic puppet of Napoleon III who stuck to his outmoded principles despite overwhelming odds in much the same way as Nicholas II did in Russia decades later. In another parallel to the later Russian events, his domineering wife Carlotta (played by a beautifully photographed, no-holds-barred, black-bewigged Bette Davis) takes matters into her own hands to support his flimsy but ardent claim to the leadership of the country; Aherne, like Muni, is also frequently seen in proximity to a framed portrait - of his wife.
This is an expensive production with lavish costumes, stunning set pieces, gorgeous music, literate dialogue, a who's who of excellent supporting players, and breathtaking photography (the latter by veteran cameraman Tonio Gaudio, some of whose visions, especially Carlotta's prayer to the Virgin Mary and her final scene in a sunlit chamber, recall the most ethereal imagery of the silent era). All of these elements work together to get our blood surging in sympathy for the downtrodden Mexican peasantry as they rise up against cold hearted official corruption. And on a smaller level we feel equally moved by the personal plight of Maximilian.
With so much stuffing, not everything works perfectly. John Garfield, one of the best film actors of his time, is unconvincing as a Mexican general. There is a problem with pacing and informational overkill. Muni's sleepwalking performance contributes to a sense of sluggishness. Whenever he appears you brace yourself for a plodding and profound dose of Great Truth. At least these Truths are not banalities, so they are somewhat worth waiting for.
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