In 17th-century France, Father Urbain Grandier seeks to protect the city of Loudun from the corrupt establishment of Cardinal Richelieu. Hysteria occurs within the city when he is accused of witchcraft by a sexually repressed nun.
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Cardinal Richelieu and his power-hungry entourage seek to take control of seventeenth-century France, but need to destroy Father Grandier - the priest who runs the fortified town that prevents them from exerting total control. So they seek to destroy him by setting him up as a warlock in control of a devil-possessed nunnery, the mother superior of which is sexually obsessed by him. A mad witch-hunter is brought in to gather evidence against the priest, ready for the big trial. Written by
Ken Russell has said that he had to be gentle with Max Adrian because he was rather frail at the time. See more »
Early in the movie when Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed) is seen grooming his hair. It is a close-up of him supposedly looking at a mirror in the upper left hand corner of the screen, behind the viewer. Obviously there is no mirror as he consistently misses combing the more egregiously messed up parts of his hair and instead repeatedly combs the portions that are already groomed. In fact when he is done, his hair is still messed up. See more »
[about to burn Grandier at the stake]
Confess you are the Devil's servant! Renounce your master!
I am about to meet the God who is my witness! And I have spoken the truth!
[brandishing the flaming torch and moving closer to Grandier]
Confess! Confess! You have only a moment to live!
Only a moment, but then I face the just and fearful judgment that you too, reverend father, will soon be called.
[starting the fire]
May your body be consumed by eternal fire!
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I can never understand why "The Devils", which was such a major film and caused such controversy, never became a cult classic being shown every other week on cable TV. This film totally annihilates all the trashy "straight-to-video" horror films. Based on true events in 17th century France, this film is one of the most horrifying tales of man's intolerance: religious and sexual.
The tale begins with an outbreak of the plague, which the folk of the middle ages, with typical misunderstanding of the real cause, rat fleas, believed that someone was to blame. Who more convenient a scapegoat than Father Grandier, played by the notorious Oliver Reed an actor who ended his rambunctious life by dropping dead in a bar. The sexual appeal of Fr. Grandier drives the supposedly celibate clergy into a frenzy of jealousy. A group of nuns, led by a noblewoman who has been forced into the convent due to her physical deformity and therefore, lack of marriageable options, joins in the hysteria which is not satisfied until Fr. Grandier is burned at the stake.
Although set in France in the middle ages, a lot of the hysteria can be seen today, in our more enlightened times. Just witness the periodic witch hunts in the United States, such as the furore over the alleged Satanic cults running day care centers, not to mention the reds under the beds hysteria of the 50's.
This was one of Ken Russell's most controversial films, and definitely very 70's in its style, after all, we had Mick Jagger and Twiggy perfectly cast as decadent French nobility, and it has taken 20+ years to see how right on the mark he was.
Although Russell was the hottest thing in cinema for a while, he faded like a discarded fashion as every wannabe copied his style, but without being able to understand what is was that set Ken Russell apart. Unfortunately Russell did not help his reputation by becoming more and more the icon of bad taste. Eventually he became a parody and the fickle who had formally worshipped his genius could not disassociate themselves quickly enough.
Like Orson Welles, Ken Russell's brilliance will not be realized until a new generation discovers his work. I recommend "The Devils" along with "The Music Lovers" as his best work.
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