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The Andrews Sisters
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>
Because the film shows many of Maximilian's generals to be Mexican, many viewers attribute it to typical Hollywood historical distortions. It is, however, indeed accurate. It's a little-known fact that, although Maximilian was eventually overthrown and executed by Mexican revolutionaries, there were actually more Mexicans fighting on Maximilian's side than against him. This was due in large part to the Catholic Church's strong support of the French occupation of Mexico and its "encouraging" Mexican Catholics to fight against the revolutionary forces by joining Maximilian's army, which they did in large numbers. See more »
About 72 minutes into the film the Imperial Mexican soldiers are committing executions in a village. A young boy tears down a posting of an Imperial Decree and flees. The commander of the Imperial soldiers draws a Colt Model 1873 Single Action Army and shoots the boy down. As the film is set in 1865, this pistol will not be invented for another eight years. 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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