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Jose Ferrer first performed "Cyrano de Bergerac" on Broadway in 1946,
where it achieved a very successful run (for a revival). Ferrer was
highly acclaimed in the role and won a Tony for his performance. His
success in the role enabled him to be the first actor to bring "Cyrano"
to the big screen in English. This was in 1950, in a Stanley
Kramer-produced film for which Ferrer won the Best Actor Oscar, beating
out such actors as James Stewart in "Harvey", William Holden in "Sunset
Blvd.", and Spencer Tracy in the original "Father of the Bride".
Until the 1990 Gerard Depardieu Technicolor spectacular in French, Ferrer's version of "Cyrano" was considered the one to see. But now, Depardieu's film has unfairly thrown this 1950 version into neglect. Part of the reason, perhaps, is the budget involved in this film. Cowardly studio executives who were afraid that a film in blank verse would fail at the box office refused to give this film the kind of budget that Laurence Olivier had enjoyed in his 1940's Shakespeare films, or the kind of budget that was used in films like the 1936 M-G-M version of "Romeo and Juliet" and the 1935 "A Midsummer Night's Dream".
And so, this "Cyrano" looks more like a cheap B-movie than a worthy film version of a classic play. There are no huge sets or spectacular camera shots--just the play, performed (with only a couple of added scenes in ordinary prose rather than the English translation's blank verse) on obvious Hollywood sound stages.
But, this film boasts what is certainly one of the greatest performances in the history of film--and especially American film. José Ferrer, an often maligned actor accused of hamminess and overemphasis, gives the performance of his life as Cyrano. His portrayal is in every way the equal of Depardieu's, and as far as I am concerned, even better. Depardieu relies on sincerity and subtle facial expressions. Ferrer also has these, but he has in addition one of the most beautiful, rich voices ever to come out of the theatre,and magnificent enunciation as well. Unlike Depardieu, who speaks the beautiful French verse as rapidly as if he were firing a machine gun (as do the others in the French film), Ferrer allows us to appreciate the rich poetry in Brian Hooker's translation, long considered the greatest verse translation of a play into English. His portrayal is more flamboyant than Depardieu, and he shows a heartbreaking sense of tragedy as he realizes that the beautiful Roxane will probably never be his. The "big moment" in the final scene is shattering in Ferrer's hands.
As for the rest of the cast, this is where the Depardieu and Ferrer versions differ. Depardieu's supporting cast was excellent, but here Mala Powers is disappointingly ordinary and one-note, though beautiful, as Roxane, and William Prince is quite good as Christian, but Ralph Clanton as De Guiche is rather cartoonish, an ordinary hissable villain until the last half-hour or so. The usually reliable Morris Carnovsky, though, is an excellent LeBret. The role of Ligniere, the drunk, has been eliminated,and his lines given to Rageauneau, the pastry cook (competently played by Lloyd Corrigan).
There are a few cuts in this version, as compared to Depardieu's, but Brian Hooker's English translation is given its due prominence. Michael Gordon's direction is excellent, and the duel at the theatre, while not allowed to roam all over the location, as in Depardieu's version, is well done and more faithful in staging to author Edmond Rostand's intentions.
This "Cyrano", however, definitely should not be allowed to fade away in obscurity, relegated to late-night TV, where it is now often mutilated for commercial breaks. It should be restored and brought back to cable to be fully appreciated.
I first saw this movie in 1950 when it was first released. I was 15 and knew
immediately that this was THE film for me. I saw it three times in 1950, and
watch at least twice a year since I bought the video.
Jose Ferrer covers all the possible emotions an actor can in his role. He is comedic, brave, adventurous, romantic, self-sacrificing, elegant, pitiful, nimble-witted, gallant, prideful, humble, he fully recognizes his short-comings, and, most of all, he is true to his code of honor. This is the best job of acting that I have ever witnessed in the thousands of movies I have seen.
I must confess that although I give the supporting cast a B+ , I would have chosen different actors for most of the roles, including Roxanne. However, William Prince as Christian, rates an A-. (Perhaps, at the time, the producers didn't know what a classic they were creating and, therefore, didn't give as much thought to the casting as they might have otherwise.)
It is a shame that Ferrer never again approached the level of excellence he displayed in Cyrano. But this does not detract from the honor I pay this actor who gave a 15 year-old boy an example to follow: a REAL man.
The best scene in the film is when Cyrano is dying in the court-yard at the nunnery, and the best line in the film is when Cyrano challenges Death with his final words which sum up his life, ` and that is, my white plume.'
A remarkable achievement in directing, acting, and writing. Jose Ferrer delivers the performance of a lifetime that strikes deep into the heart. Anyone who has even been mocked, scored, or ridiculed, or simply felt unworthy of the affections of another will sympathize with Cyrano, and Ferrer brings the character to life as no one has ever been able to do, before or since. The movie is exceptionally smart, humorous, and tragic all at the same time. A perfect film.
Back years ago in high school studying Cyrano de Bergerac, with a
textbook having pictures from this film, one of the other students
asked simply why didn't he just get a nose job? It got a lot of
amusement when the teacher told her that that procedure just wasn't
available in Cardinal Richelieu's France.
I'm afraid that that might be the feeling of a lot of readers of the play and viewers of the film. Rostand, who wrote the play in the 19th century about the 17th century might as well have been writing about people on Mars.
If they take that tack then folks will be losing out on appreciating a great play and role essayed by a man who possessed one of the great speaking voices of the century. Jose Ferrer puts everyone else in the cast to shame with his performance of Cyrano.
To be sure Cyrano de Bergerac is a one man play. All the other characters Rostand gave absolutely no depth to. Roxanne is a sweet young girl looking for romance, Christian is a handsome dunce, Comte de Guiche is a Snidely Whiplash villain. But Cyrano, you have to be a real actor to play that one.
Cyrano is a soldier, writer, swordsman even a gourmet of sorts. But that proboscis fills him with doubt when the opposite sex is concerned. He's a tortured soul and Ferrer gives THE interpretation of Cyrano. It will be so a hundred years from now. He's a swashbuckler to be sure, but you certainly couldn't cast any of the normal movie swashbucklers in that part.
I don't know if the MTV generation will feel like my classmate of years ago, but if they turn away from music videos and watch this, they will be treated to a once in a lifetime acting performance.
"Cyrano de Bergerac" is based on the play by Edmond Rostand about a
swordsman and poet with a long nose who helps another man to win the
woman he loves. The film's story is an abridged version of the play
based on the famous English translation from Brian Hooker.
José Ferrer is excellent in the title role as Cyrano de Bergerac. He handles all aspects of the character well, from the sharp poetic dialogue to the reluctance in conveying his feelings to Roxane. The rest of the performances were respectable as well, though clearly the title role requires the most acting ability.
This film is criticized for its minimalist sets. Admittedly they never bothered me, but at times the film was excessively dark, especially during the combat scenes toward the end of the film.
The story is abridged, but for me the essential components of the story were there with clever verse of Hooker's translation and the tragedy and humor of Rostand's story. The swordplay scenes are believable, though not exceptional other than for Cyrano's ability to fight and compose poetry simultaneously. "Cyrano de Bergerac" is a solid adaptation of Rostand's play best known for a striking performance from José Ferrer.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Th original play, a fictionalized biography of Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmund Rostand, from which the film was drawn, is one of the chief ornaments of the nineteenth century's literature. It belongs to the pre-World War One era; its central character, however, appears to me to be a late-nineteenth century mind. He is a fabulous swordsman, the bravest and most intelligent of soldiers, and a man whose very-large nose has destroyed all other aspects of his life. Believing he has been cheated by nature, he takes out his vengeance upon the pretentious; he appoints himself an avenging angel against all forms of fraud. Eventually, this includes the flower of French nobility who dare to insult him. He is in love with his cousin Roxane, the most beautiful woman at the French court; but he consents to write love letters to her for his handsome, courageous but ungifted friend, perhaps to prove to himself that his creative talents might have won the love of the world's fairest ornament, so long as she did not know he were the unattractive source of such beautiful utterance.When the beautiful young man is killed in the wars, during which Cyrano becomes a popular hero, he continues the deception. He brings Roxane in her abbey retreat court news, and comforts her in her widowhood, all the while opposing the tyrannical and overbearing new faction at court. Finally they attack him; managing to keep his appointment with Roxane, against medical advice, although grievously wounded, he makes a slip, She finds out he was the author of the original love letters, and Cyrano dies, delirious, inveighing against his ancient enemies--the sins of the overbearing nobility-totalitarians--and claiming that he had kept his "white plume"--his honor--unstained always, despite all fears and temptations. He dies, a symbol of a lost society and a betrayed Age--and she weeps for him at the end. This estimable film was produced by Stanley Kramer, and directed by Michael Gordon. It presents a good deal of dialogue, but the pace if deliberate, it is also serviceable at almost all points. Carl Foreman wrote the screenplay from Brian Hooker's translation of the play; and it still looks like a play at a few points. But the very-difficult dueling and war sections appeared to me to work very well as cinema. Franz Planer did the unusually dense B/W cinematography; original music was composed by Dimitri Tiomkin. The production was designed by Rudolph Sternad, with set decorations by Edward G. Boyle. Dorothy Jeakins did the lovely gowns for Roxane. In this production, Ferrer is arrogant and frequently superb. He roars, he insinuates, he flashes his intellect as poet the way other men do their rapiers; and with a sword he shows himself to be seemingly beyond equal. His dispatching of an arrogant nobleman who tries to stop him from chasing a bad actor off the stage is the film's showpiece; he finally kills him, but not before delivering his ripostes and thrust in rhyme and offering the fellow a way out. Accepting dainties from a servant girl he takes only a sip of water and half a macaroon--his way of acknowledging the worth of her admiration, and his freedom from weakness. He finally betrays himself at the end to Roxane as the author of her letters by quoting one to her in a light so dim he could not be reading it. Mala Powers is good as Roxane but not great. As her lover, William Prince is very good and properly stiff. The presence of talents such as Lloyd Corrigan, Morris Carnovsky, Edgar Barrier as Cardinal Richelieu, Virginia Christine and other fine actors helps the production's success. This is a difficult part to bring to life; it requires a nasal bite in speech, perfect diction, charisma, a suggestion of depth of soul, high intelligence and even hubris, as well as regard for others. Ferrer did the part about as well as it has ever been done on film; one has only to compare his interpretation to those of others to appreciate the level of his triumph. It is an award-level achievement; and the film, while a bit stagey at several points is also beautiful, memorable and very different in the attainments of its dialogue, its poetry and its ideas.
Almost never shown these days, "Cyrano de Bergerac", one of the best
films of 1950, turned up the other night unexpectedly on a cable
channel. It was a pleasure to see it again after so many years since we
first saw it. Michael Gordon directed the screen version that became a
favorite of people who were delighted to make concessions to a man that
was far from being endowed with any physical attributes.
The enjoyment of the picture is due to the amazing tour de force by that wonderful actor, Jose Ferrer, a man whose friendship we cherished because he enriched our life with his honesty, frankness and charisma. Mr. Ferrer's contribution to the stage and screen can be best sampled as we watch him become Cyrano, a man in love with his cousin Roxanne, whose great fear is the possible rejection of the beautiful young woman in favor of the handsome, and younger, Christian.
This beloved theater play by Edmond Rostand had been translated by Brian Hooker, in what became the most familiar way American audiences met the illustrious French author. The screen play by Carl Foreman clarifies the text in ways that the movie going public of that era could relate to this man whose wit and charm outweighed his appearance, which was dominated by a big nose that rendered him an unattractive man. The poetry of the play is preserved even though it is not done in verse like the original manuscript. Dimitri Tiomkin's score lent itself to the action.
Mala Powers was a disappointment though. Yes, she was a beauty, but her Roxanne doesn't quite come across; she is at a disadvantage playing opposite an icon of the theater like Mr. Ferrer, who certainly had more experience. William Prince does a fair job as Christian. Morris Carnovsky, another great stage actor, appears as Le Bret and Ralph Clanton makes his contribution with his take of Guiche.
"Cyrano de Bergerac" is recommended to movie fans of all ages to watch the magnificent Jose Ferrer at his best.
I am a little bit reluctant using such adjectives like "greatest". But
an "oeuvre d'art" deserves it, why not?
In this film all is fine tuned, well gauged, perfectly synchronized.
I shall in particular emphasize the unforgettable José Ferrer's play of Cyrano's fathomless sorrow.
If Hollywood could remember that there was a long time ago, in a far away galaxy, that thing named "The American Cinema"...
This film is simply my favorite above all others. And I grant that
entirely because of the splendid performance of Jose Ferrer. He outshines
all other cast members in what would be a forgettable B movie, were it not
for his brilliant portrayal of the long nosed poet and swordsman. I
the character of Cyrano appeals to me so because he is a man of substance,
not image (unlike so many contemporary heroes).
`True.I carry my adornments only on my soul, decked with deeds instead of ribbons, mantled in my good name and crowned with the white plume of freedom!'
Wow, what a line!
There will never again be another Cyrano, as there will never be another actor capable of playing him so well as Jose Ferrer.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I watched ''Cyrano de Bergerac'' by my father's recommendation and I can say that I loved the story very much!I decided to begin watching the classic Cyrano before watching the one with Gerard Depardieu. I am surprised to know that the actor who played Cyrano in this version, José Ferrer, played Cyrano and many other versions and also that he is George Clooney's uncle! José is great by the way! Very articulated and a very good actor! I liked the character Cyrano very much and If all the plastic surgeries that we have in the present days were available at that time, I am pretty sure he would not suffer so much! (In his case, the plastic was really needed, very different from people from the present days that do without any type of problem) Mala Powers is a very beautiful Roxane and William Prince is not bad asChristian de Neuvillette.
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