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In Alexandria, in 1938, Darley, a young British schoolmaster and poet, makes friends through Pursewarden, the British consular officer, with Justine, the beautiful and mysterious wife of a Coptic banker. He observes the affairs of her heart and incidentally discovers that she is involved in a plot against the British, meant to arm the Jewish underground in Palestine. The plot finally fails, Justine is sent to jail and Darley decides to return to England. Written by
"She seemed to move in a golden glow...blood-sister to a thousand tyrant queens!"
With very little exposition, we are unceremoniously plunked down into this muddle of a tale set on the coast of the Mediterranean sea in Alexandria, just north of Egypt. Michael York stars as a schoolteacher and writer in the 1930s who is returning to Alexandria on a "fool's journey", having an affair with a belly dancer but just as quickly dumping her for a tempestuous politico named Justine, a married prostitute (and former Jew!) who is panicked by the British takeover of the Muslims. Adapted from Lawrence Durrell's celebrated collection "The Alexandria Quartet", this indifferent, wayward drama shows no signs of a decisive captain of the ship. Filmmaker George Cukor (of all people) took over after the first director was fired; how much of the original work remains is unknown--but, no matter, the whole misbegotten venture is terrible from start to finish. York (who also narrates, seemingly under duress) approaches every scene with the same expression: a quizzical blank. Anouk Aimée teases him by licking crumbs from his lips and dashing into the ocean naked, but when York gets physical, she freezes up like a Hollywood heroine from the 1950s and tells him, "Don't!" Leon Shamroy's cinematography is fine, Jerry Goldsmith's music is lively, and John Vernon is surprisingly cordial and handsome as Justine's husband. All the rest is cinematic cabbage. * from ****
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