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This Hollywood rendition of the British literary classic by R.D. Blackmore was dubbed "grotesque" by the late, eminent but notoriously conservative film critic Leslie Halliwell where, he opined, the narrative was treated "as if it were a Western"! Such a damning assessment did not augur well, to be sure but, then, Leonard Maltin rated it higher than the director's best-regarded costumer i.e. the just-watched THE BRIGAND (1952). The truth, as often happens, lies somewhere in between: while the plot does feel like a typical 'terrorized homestead' scenario, it is nevertheless engaging (indeed, more so than the better-received 1934 version that had preceded this viewing!) and, to its credit, looks veritably gorgeous in the Technicolor print shown on Australian HD-TV I acquired (despite the "Back Soon" and "Now" announcements signalling frequent commercial breaks!). Still, it does not quite have the impetus to rise above the clichés lacking the wit and verve that would characterize THE BRIGAND and substituting glumness, ill-matched stars (Barbara Hale and Richard Greene) and a decidedly anodyne villain (William Bishop)!
While the essence of the tale, at least as shown in the earlier adaptation, is there, a number of crucial differences are also on hand which, again, can either work in its favour or against: first of all, the Doones (headed by siblings Carl Benton Reid and Onslow Stevens) reside in a castle and, rather than mere bandits, are overlords enslaving the people a' la Prince John in the Robin Hood legends; the male protagonist here is a soldier in King Charles II (not James!)'s army, so that the opposition he offers involves military tactics (a planned sneak attack by way of the waterfall which had introduced the hero to Lorna as kids) instead of just an impulsive personal vendetta; the character of Tom Faggus (played this time around by Ron Randell) is much more important here but, then, his romance with Greene's barely- registering sister feels contrived; a number of violent scenes (floggings, hangings) are incorporated, culminating in full-blown swashbuckling action at the climax; there is not one but two interrupted wedding ceremonies (in both of which Lorna is the prospective bride!), with the last semi-tragic one preceding the inevitable showdown between her two contenders which, however, ends with the predictable fall from a great height and not a marshland drowning; Lorna's background (a spiteful kidnapping stunting her regal birthright), on the other hand, is more than adequately dealt with since the King himself comes into play on a couple of occasions!. With this, I am now left with the Silent 1922 filmization by Maurice Tourneur to check out while marking the start of a three-movie mini-marathon dedicated to Greene as part of my current Epic Easter viewings.
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