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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 »
It is difficult to understand why this film is SO rare and forgotten. I myself had to wait over 40 years to finally see it, when, one of our TV channels, realising what a rare and unusual film they had (!), screened it at 4:00 a.m. in the morning! Thank goodness for video!
It was such a commercial flop in Britain when first shown in 1947, that after a brief showcase screening in London, it sank without a trace and has remained a "lost" film ever since. Based on Eugene O'Neill's play, it is slightly flawed in places I must admit, but what is so staggeringly remarkable is that it ever got made in the first place!
Clocking in at almost three hours running time in the days when a 75 minute feature might induce ennui, and 95 minutes was a marathon, and so WORDY, and, in a climate just slowly emerging from WW2, so GLOOMY, one should not perhaps be surprised that it did flop commercially, but, seen now, one can realise just how very good it is. Perhaps RKO were motivated by, and mindful of the fact that O'Neill had then just recently been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, but could they ever in their wildest dreams have imagined such a film would ever go into profit? Had they learned nothing from CITIZEN KANE five years earlier?
What was also remarkable however, considering when the film was made, was its frank and quite powerful depiction of the Oedipal/Electra complex. No doubt the American censors at the time felt they could be more than customarily lenient with a "classic" work, (as they indeed had been with GONE WITH THE WIND), and, no doubt, in 1947, Freud's teachings were still pretty much the esoteric, clinical knowledge of a small minority, so perhaps the censors of the day "read" these dark passions merely as melodrama, but the ensemble playing is so strong and competent that the film leaves you know doubt about just what forces are in play, even if most people at that time weren't perhaps universally aware of them.
Also, it so vividly confirms my long-held contention that any film is only ever as good as its script!!! What rare bliss it is nowadays to hear intelligent, thoughtful, meaningful dialogue! To witness characters riven by dark, deep passions of the heart and soul rather than by mere carnal lust Unfortunately, Rosalind Russell as Lavina wasn't too competent in the strong passion department, and regrettably was way out of her depth in her part, but Michael Redgrave (making his Hollywood debut) was a revelation, and his performance is one of the very best I have ever seen from him. But, in this particular work, all the acting parts are difficult, demanding swift changes of emotion, and the need to depict turbulent psychological undertows through body language. Vivien Leigh was probably the only screen actress from that era who could have done full justice to the role of Lavina.
Katina Paxinou undertakes her role as the unfaithful mother with flourish and conviction, and Raymond Massey as the father is, as always, reliable and sound, and even the incomparable Sarah Allgood makes an all too brief appearance. A very young Kirk Douglas acquits himself well, and although technically you can see the studio budget wasn't huge, the overall result is extremely satisfying, and illustrates well what a great debt the world owes to American playwrights of O'Neill's calibre, and too, to Hollywood for making them available to a world-wide audience.
It is a genuinely moving and powerful film, and it is a shame that it has become such a neglected and forgotten orphan. No doubt had it been made in France or Britain, it would now be hailed by movie snobs as a great Art Film, which it is, and just because it originated through the Hollywood studio system doesn't make it in the least bit less brilliant and dynamic. And whatever else, it is certainly one of the most LITERATE films ever made! Well worth searching for. Or, come to that, waiting 40 years for!
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