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Franklin J. Schaffner
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After an Egyptian army, commanded by British officers, is destroyed in a battle in the Sudan in the 1880's, the British government is in a quandary. It does not want to commit a British military force to a foreign war but they have a commitment to protect the Egyptians in Khartoum. They decide to ask General Charles "Chinese" Gordon, something of a folk hero in the Sudan as he had cleared the area of the slave trade, to arrange for the evacuation. Gordon agrees but also decides to defend the city against the forces of the Mahdi - the expected one - and tries to force the British to commit troops. Written by
Breathtaking movie with two exceptional actors : Charlton Heston and Laurence Olivier
This large scale epic film is rightly based on historic deeds . Set in the Sudan , in 1884-85 , and deals with the Major General Gordon (Charlton Heston , but Burt Lancaster turned down the role) who participated in Crimea war (1854-56) and vanquished the Taeping's riots in China is assigned by Gladstone (Prime Minister and leader of Liberal party who along with Disraeli -Tory leader- forged the colonial empire) stifle Sudan's rebellious tribes ruled by the Mahdi (Laurence Olivier), nicknamed the ¨expected one¨ . The devout Christian Gordon had been governor of Khartoum for five years and he will have to dominate them but is besieged by the Arabs tribes in 1884 . The Anglo-Egyptian forces led by Major Gordon made a heroic defense during ten months against the invading Muslim army . The expedition of help commanded by Lord Wolsey and the famous Kitchener (who soon after he'd finish Anglo-Boer war and created the first concentration camp) would arrive late .
The picture has extraordinary interpretations from main actors . Charlton Heston as the thoughtful and impulsive General Charles George Gordon is top-notch and Laurence Olivier as the fanatic Muslim is awesome . Heston actually did bear a remarkable resemblance to Major General Gordon , but he was considerably taller than the real Gordon . While Laurence Olivier has an extreme make-up to incarnate the religious fanatic , Ahmed El Mahdi , ¨the Expected One¨ . The support cast is equally outstanding , thus : Ralph Richardson (as Gladstone), Nigel Green (Wolsey) , Peter Arne (Kitchener) , among others . The film was based on facts , though was really criticized for neglecting to mention the many very good reasons why Prime Minister Gladstone was reluctant to send an army into the Sudan . The colorful and shimmer cinematography by Edward Scaife is magnificent , being well reflected in desert landscapes ; it was shot in Ultra Panavision , though was later reduced for exhibition in 70mm and 35mm release prints . Production design is overwhelming , it is the best part of the film , including a giant screen originally exhibited in Cinerama venues . Battles staged by Yakima Canutt are spellbound and spectacular . Frank Cordell's musical score is rousing and impressively adjusted to historical film . The motion picture was perfectly directed by Basil Dearden , though Lewis Gilbert was attached as director at one point . The yarn will appeal to historic epic buffs and Charlton Heston fans . Rating : Very Good . Above average, well worth watching .
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