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Eugene O'Neill's updated version of the Orestaia. In New England, after the American Civil War, a war-weary Agamem--er, Ezra Mannon comes home to his unhappy wife (Christine) and loving daughter (Lavinia). But Lavinia's ex-suitor, Adam Brant, has become Christine's lover, and together Adam and Christine plot to poison Ezra. When they succeed, Lavinia turns to her brother Orin to help bring the lovers to justice, but when they succeed, Orin goes mad and his suicide note may come between Lavinia and her new suitor, Peter Niles. Written by
The movie is one of three RKO-distributed films that were edited heavily after their initial unsuccessful first runs; the others were The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) (aka "The Devil and Daniel Webster") and Joan of Arc (1948). All three have been restored to their full length (or, in the case of "Mourning Becomes Electra", approximately their full length) on DVD. See more »
About 22 minutes into the film, Orin is standing by a bench where Lavinia is seated. He holds his hat by his side and he drops it....it just lies there on the dirt path as he sits down and he doesn't pick it up. See more »
The script reduces the stage original by approximately two-thirds. The cinematography is clunky and the production values are weak. Direction is indifferent and the acting styles are all over the map. Even so, the 1947 MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA is a startlingly powerful film, a melodrama that leaps and crackles and which will hold the attention of discerning viewers through two and a half hours to its remarkably bitter end.
Loosely based on the ancient Greek tragedy THE ORESTIA, Eugene O'Neill's 1931 drama was and is an extraordinary creation. Strangely ritualistic in tone and requiring approximately six hours to perform, it stunned audiences upon its debut, was a powerful factor in O'Neill's winning of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and remains one of the great pinnacles of American theatre to this day. It is also a warped, sick, and twisted tale of adultery, incestuous affections, blackmail, murder, and suicide, and as such it held Hollywood at bay for close to twenty years.
The story concerns the Mannons, a family that has dominated a small New England town for more than a hundred years, dominating through social status and supposed family and civic duty even as they conceal several internal scandals. The film opens with father Ezra (Raymond Massey) away from home, acting as a leader in the Civil War; in his absence wife Christine (Katrina Patinoux) has taken a lover who visits the house under the guise of courting daughter Lavinia (Rosalind Russell.) When Lavinia discovers the truth, she attempts to blackmail her mother into giving up the relationship--but the attempt backfires into a horrendous cycle of murder and revenge that ultimately destroys the family and drives Lavinia to her her doom.
The script actually does manage to encompass all the primary plot points of O'Neill's original, and although the result is a bit talky in a forced sort of way the story itself possesses a relentless quality that does indeed approximate the stage original. Even more surprisingly, the script makes no effort to soften the incestuous nature of the various relationships that characterize the tale, relationships that increasingly pervert and twist the family as the story progresses. This is dark, dark stuff indeed.
As previously noted, the cast is all over the map in terms of acting style and indeed each of the principles seem to be performing for a different film. Rosalind Russell is distinctly "classic Hollywood;" Michael Redgrave is distinctly "English theatre." Katrina Patinoux, a memorable performer, is Greek and therefore somewhat out of place as the matriarch of a New England family; Raymond Massey, an equally memorable performer, seems to reprise his earlier portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. Each and every one of them, in their own different ways, play at white-hot intensity, and many find the resulting mix too uncomfortable. I myself did not: if anything, I felt it added to and intensified the overall strangeness of the piece.
Eugene O'Neill dramas do not, as a rule, film extremely well: they are too clearly designed for the stage and as such they work best in front of a live audience. All the same, and in spite of its numerous flaws, this is one of the few film versions of an O'Neill play that actually manages to capture the intensity of the stage original. Dark, brooding, and deeply disturbing, MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA deserves a great deal more attention than it has ever received.
When the film failed at the box office, RKO responded by cutting it in re-release. This Image Entertainment DVD restores those cuts, and that is a very good thing indeed. Unfortunately, it is also the only good thing that one can say for the DVD. The print quality is at best mediocre, a bit fuzzy, occasionally streaked, and riddled with artifacts. There are no extras of any kind. But just as the film transcends its own flaws, so too does it transcends this poor transfer. Strongly recommended.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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