In early 18th century Peru an old Inca rope bridge collapses, plunging five travelers to their deaths in the Andean chasm below. Brother Juniper, who was within minutes of being on the bridge himself, becomes obsessed with discovering how five people of differing class and circumstances came to be on the bridge at that moment. The Catholic friar wants to know if it was mere existential happenstance or part of God's cosmic plan. After researching the lives of the victims for five years and publishing his findings in a book, he is accused of heresy by the worldly Archbishop of Lima and is put on trial for his life by the Inquisition.Written by
None of the reviewers at this site or elsewhere have noted that there are four, not three, filmed versions of this unique and haunting novel.The fourth appeared on American television between October,l957,and January,l958. It was probably a Hallmark production ,obviously has never replayed,and is not listed in this data base.
This is all the more disconcerting as it is the only dramatized version(The silent version is unobtainable and exists in only one known copy)which in any way remained faithful to the spirit and much of the text of the original.Wilder's book calls to be read aloud and the three leading actresses in this particular production did everything possible with the essential sound values.
The key role of the Marquesa was taken by Judith Anderson(of "Medea" and "Hamlet" fame) and she literally almost breached the saving boundary between make believe and reality.Unlike the recent version there is nothing funny about this woman.Her daughter certainly does not visit her in Latin America.Like King Lear ,she has been exiled from Spain at her daughter's request.And not without good reason.The Marquesa is a terrifying and vicious old drunk who is positively guaranteed to disrupt any social occasion which she attends. On the other hand,in exile,and smashing bottles in the audience's collective face,she,the most terrifying of mothers,writes epistles on her genuinely frustrated love which will go down in the history of Spanish literature.Finally she meets a teenager who is
emotionally abused,and, as emotionally abusive, as the great lady herself;
and so the pair scream and claw till they eventually reach a truly loving accord.It seems both women now,for the only time in their lives,will have something to live for.But that entails first crossing the Bridge of San Luis Rey.
If we have any present day American actress,aside from Julie Harris,who could have recreated this part it is Kathy Bates.She must have jumped at the chance to do it.Unfortunately the incredibly uncomprehending adaptation defeats her.As it does the wonderfully gifted Polish brothers.They are literally left speechless.
Similarly the fifties version ended with a great hymn to love from the Mother Superior(played by Eva LaGallienne) to the broken actress (Vivica Lindfors)who has lost(half-driven) mentor,lover, and child to the abyss.The new version gives us anti-Catholic propaganda with the woefully miscast DeNiro and Byrne struggling with materials they were not born to enunciate.
Our catastrophe ridden neo-Babylonian society could use a good new production of "The Bridge" right now.Too bad that it didn't get it.If the fifties version still exists, may be this letter will be an incentive for someone to dig it from the archives. Lindfors,La Gallienne,Judith Anderson,you should be living at this hour.
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