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Quo Vadis (2001)
Having just watched the 1951 "Quo Vadis" (as well as "The Robe" and "Demetrius and the Gladiators") I find this version over all excels the 1951 version, although Ustinov in '51 did make a more memorable Nero. Genn and Linda each make a splendid Petronius. The Polish hero and heroine I liked better, and while I think Hollywood '51 did a nice rewrite, the Polish version is truer to the Sienkiewicz novel. With computers the arena scenes of the 2001 version prove superior, though grislier, and the bull scene with Lygia is remarkable, however they brought that off. While the 255 minutes made for two evenings (actually we watched the '51 version over two evenings also), I highly recommend this one. The bigger your screen the better. While the religiosity gets sensitive treatment, it seems less overbearing than it sometimes gets in the Roman vs Christian epics of the early '50s.
Don Quixote (1933)
Filmed with great sensitivity
Miguel de Cervantes's great novel, "Don Quixote," (Part One, 1605, Part Two, 1615)has been treated in opera, musical comedy, Spanish zarzuela, ballet, film and the fine arts, though it is best played out in the theater of the imagination. To this film can come closest and G. W. Pabst's sensitive treatment in black and white does well indeed. The great Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin, who sang the title role in Jules Massenet's gorgeous 1910 opera, "Don Quichotte," plays Don Quixote, and sings too, with nice music credited to Jacques Ibert. George Robey makes a splendid Sancho Panza. The adaptation is intelligent, with many of the best known episodes treated,if not in the same order as in the book. The film handles well the Duke and Duchess, who humor Don Quixote and Sancho Panza for their amusement, but are somewhat humbled. Having the windmills (Part One, chapter 8) and burning of romances of chivalry at the end (Part One, chapter 6), with the death of Quixote, works surprisingly well. It is worth cleaning up and re-releasing, if possible.
An operatic delight with Lawrence Tibbett.
This 1935 film showed recently on a TV movie channel and proved an innocent delight. The story line is simple, the ending happy, the people snappily dressed and the sets splendid. A fading prima donna is fired from the Met and starts her own opera company. A renowned conductor comes from retirement to conduct, and hires baritone Lawrence Tibbett, one of America's first operatic super stars, whose superb singing is the chief attraction of the film. He has a rich, focused voice and agreeable good looks. When the prima donna's voice fails, the conductor quits and all is about to fall apart, until the heroine Alice Brady, who wanted to be an opera star on her own, turns out to be an heiress and saves the day.The sound track suggests that someone has done a spectacular job of restoring the print; Tibbett's ringing voice impresses in baritone favorites, "The Road to Mandalay," "Largo al factotum" from Barber of Seville, "The Toreador Song" from Carmen, and "Si puo," from I Pagliacci.
Wake Island (1942)
One of the Best WWII Movies
This movie came out in the first year of the war, and I remember well seeing it at a Saturday matinée, and playing it out in our back yard, wearing a kid's version of a Marine "tin hat." I've watched it on video many times since. The movie begins well, and has good sub plots, some serious, some humorous. Donlevy is excellent as the Marine CO, and the whole cast -- Robert Preston, William Bendix, Albert Dekker, Macdonald Carey et al. -- turns in convincing performances. Director John Farrow, who saw combat in the Royal Navy at the beginning of WWII and was discharged because of wounds, develops the tension well as overwhelming Japanese forces attack the Island, to be repelled once, and then returning to overrun it in compelling combat sequences. Because it is of the era, it catches the flavor of the era perfectly, and anyone trying to do a movie about the U.S. in WWII should see it. I can only compare it to the wrong in far too many ways 2002 "Pearl Harbor" -- messing up on details such as using the "Alpha/Bravo" phonetic alphabet instead of the "Able/Baker" of WWII, getting manners and haircuts wrong and blowing up nests of more modern destroyers when the Japanese concentrated only on the battleships. Wake Island clearly has no such mistakes.
Harmon of Michigan (1941)
Old Fashioned Football Movie
An old fashioned football movie, made on the eve of U.S. entry into World War II, in which Harmon would serve with distinction. It begins with footage of Harmon's games at Michigan, in which Harmon, "old number 98," starred as a triple threat, becoming the best known All-American of his day and featured in LIFE magazine. After a brief pro career, Harmon became a sportscaster and, married to actress Elyse Knox, father of Mark Harmon, a UCLA All-American and actor. Tom Harmon's team-mate Forest Evashevsky, another All-American and later a successful coach, also features in the film, while Anita Louise plays Harmon's wife. It's a simple story of an ambitious young coach who needs to learn a few lessons in life and sports from an old coach and a loving wife. It has some good staged football action, of the game as it was played in the late '30s and, of course, a happy ending.
De Mayerling à Sarajevo (1940)
A Moving, Beautifully Filmed Treatment
While highly romanticized, Ophul's treatment of the subject is not mistaken. He does make Archduke Franz Ferdinand more attractive than in life, in which he was usually gruff rather than charming. Yet his hopes for the Austro-Hungarian Empire were promising, as they appear in the film, and he did enjoy the support and friendship of German Kaiser Wilhelm II. While Emperor Franz Josef had a certain presence, and in his old age and after the tragedies of Mayerling and the assassination in 1898 of his erratic but lovely wife, Empress Elisabeth, became endeared to his subjects, he was none the less trapped in court etiquette. He had no ideas about improving and making his empire more viable, but simply persisted in old ways and habits. The film makes him somewhat more sympathetic to Franz Ferdinand than he likely was. Franz Ferdinand adored the Countess Chotek and his family, and was understandably distressed at his treatment by the Emperor and Court. Sadly the last scene seems hasty and the car not the same as seen in the photos from Sarajevo in 1914.