After making a number of unremarkable movies in the 1940's, director Douglas Sirk a German immigrant in America, decided to return to his homeland. However it was not long before the disillusioned Sirk found himself back in Hollywood where he signed a contract with Universal for whom he made a number of movies, some of which proved their largest commercial successes of the decade. The irony of Sirk's career is that at the very pinnacle of his success he once again returned to Germany, this time for good.
Universal assigned him with scripts and actors which were often decidedly second league. With time, Sirk garnered a reputation for creating memorable movies despite these disadvantageous circumstances. This he achieved with an acute eye for imagery and an incisively critical eye as to American society.
Before signing with Universal, he managed to make one independent film, "The First Legion" and as such it's a work of much importance to anyone interested in Sirk's work. Here he clearly had far greater choice as to subject matter without the constraints of the studio. "The First Legion" is an essay on the nature of belief and perception of reality in the framework of a Jesuit monastry in small town America.
As with most of Sirk's work the camera is utilized with a beguiling subtlety. His sharp visual sense and his cunningly unobtrusive camera become the tools for the telling of the real story he chose to tell, even when lumbered with inferior scripts and performers. Thankfully, the script and the actors are far above the level that Universal afforded him. Charles Boyer, Leo G. Carroll, William Demarest and Lyle Bettger acquit themselves extremely well as does Barbara Rush, who worked with Sirk on four movies.
"The First Legion" has been called Sirk's first masterpiece. While not quite in the class of the movies he made in his prime, it's a fine piece of work by an intriguing and intelligent film maker.
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