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Oedipus the King (1968)
Odd Film Adaptation
While it seems a little strange to begin with a spoiler for a 2,600 year old story (one would assume many people already know the tragic tale of the downfall of the Theban king), for those rare few who do not I must give a word of warning: director Philip Saville begins the film, under the opening credits, by revealing (in unfortunately dated slow-motion camera technique, using weird hallucinogenic camera angles) the central mystery of the play.
This move, though, is merely a foreshadowing of Saville's additional odd directorial choices (intercutting flashbacks to the regicide at some more inappropriate moments, for example; suddenly having the king and his advisors sitting among the ruins of a Greek amphitheatre which, one would think, would not have been in RUINS when they were originally built; or even something as obvious as knowing that when Oedipus calls his citizens "children of Cadmus" that he doesn't literally mean children, but of the bloodline of Cadmus -- so there is no need to have a handful of waifish, pre-pubescent boys kneeling at the king's first entrance so that he can admonish the "children" to arise.)
You will rarely see a hammier performance than that of Christopher Plummer as Oedipus. His interminably long pauses as he tries to work through his emotions bring to mind a lower- echelon drama school's production of Hamlet while, on the other end of the spectrum, his shouting, scenery-chewing antics in scenes opposite Orson Welles as Tiresias and Richard Johnson as Creon merely show how he is outclassed by his scene partners.
The final bit of icing on this baklava, as it were, must be reserved for the performance of a young Donald Sutherland as the Chorus leader. Almost totally unrecognizable under a hideous black pageboy wig, with a voice that has been re-dubbed, he sounds like and resembles a tunic-wearing Prince Valiant in an old Steve Reeves Hercules movie. Since there is already a mash-up of accents (Plummer is Canadian, Lilli Palmer is German and the rest British), one can only think that Sutherland's dubbing is less because his accent doesn't quite fit in with his fellow Thebans, but that the poor young actor simply couldn't speak the lines with any acting chops. I'd love to hear the original.
This terrible adaptation transforms the lyrically elegant morality tale of a warrior-king who dooms his people to oblivion because of his own quest for fame into a butt-kicking action flick. Beware! Anyone watching this horrendous adaptation as a short-cut to reading the book for a class, the changes that have been made are arbitrary.
For example: - Grendel's mother is NOT impregnated by Beowulf in the poem. Nor is she the beautiful naked Angelina Jolie -- she is more akin to the reptilian title character from ALIEN.
-Hrothgar is NOT the father of Grendel. Nor does he commit suicide by leaping from the parapet after giving his crown to Beowulf.
-Beowulf becomes the king of the Geats (southern Sweden) not the Danes as he does in the movie.
-Beowulf does not marry Hrothgar's widow and then sleep around with the castle wench. In fact, in the poem Beowulf neither has an heir nor marries. His fatherlessness is a source of regret on his deathbed. His cellibacy contributed to his image as a Christ figure.
Though the animation is well-done, and the direction and editing contribute to a fast-paced film, the utter disregard for the story is appalling.
And Then There Were None (1945)
Just about the best Mystery Movie Filmed
An excellent adaptation of the Christie novel, director Rene Clare assembled a superlative cast and woven a tightly knit mystery laced with a combination of humor and genuine fear.
While the romantic leads pale in comparison to such gifted character supporting players as Walter Huston and Barry Fitzgerald, among others, the film does not suffer for this weakness.
Ein Unbekannter rechnet ab (1974)
Implausible and Badly Cast
My comments may be biased in that I am a huge fan of the original film version (1945) starring Rene Clare. That film boasted style, tension, humor and a superlative cast of character actors that included Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, Richard Haydn and Dame Judith Anderson. This version lacks all of the above.
The story of ten strangers isolated from the world by a mysterious murderer, U.N. Owen, intent on bringing them to justice has been, in this version, updated, with the locale shifted from a deserted island off the coast of England to an Iranian hotel in the middle of the desert.
This shift, while providing a more modern version of total isolation, lacks plausibility. Why would a murderer obsessed with providing justice based on a British Nursery Rhyme ("Ten Little Indians"), bring an international group to a Middle Eastern hotel? And when the second "victim" appears, one of the players identifies the method of her death as the ancient punishment for murderers. How on earth would anyone in this group of strangers know that? And again, why would a murderer obsessed with providing justice based on a British Nursery Rhyme suddenly switch his modus opperandi to ancient methods of punishment.
The international cast, including heavily accented French, Italian, German actors supplementing their British counterparts, is barely understandable at times and have clearly been cast with an eye towards international distribution rather than dramatic ability.
Particularly ridiculous is the casting of Charles Aznavour, the French singer, who mercifully stops acting just long enough to sing a completely unrelated song in the midst of the mystery. No doubt this was in hope of rallying interest in a Soundtrack recording amongst patrons for surely they did not think this would be nominated for a Best Song Oscar! Luckily, Aznavour is dead within 5 minutes of singing this nonsense, so perhaps U.N. Owen is right and there IS justice to be served after all.
Elke Somer and Oliver Reed may be the most unappealing romantic leads ever featured in a film. They lack chemistry, and his ham-handed performance is matched by her bland vapidness.
I do however recommend one moment at the very end of the film. The murderer, convinced that the plan has succeeded, takes poison so that the "last little indian" will be dead along with the others. Watch the murderers lips turn blue in a neat special effect.