Monday, May 01, 2017


I've waited years to see this movie in its proper widescreen ratio. It's a 20th Century Fox film, so Fox Movie Channel shows it fairly frequently, but never in widescreen, only in the old TV pan-and-scan format. I began to think an original ratio print didn’t exist anymore, but eventually Turner Classic Movies aired it in widescreen (hurrah for TCM!). Was it worth the wait? No, but at least I didn't have to base my judgment on a distorted, shrunken version. In 1848, acclaimed actor Junius Booth (Raymond Massey) is traveling the country doing one-night stands of Shakespeare, but his drinking is getting the best of him. His son Edwin (Richard Burton) tries to get Dad out of the bars and onto the stage where, despite his inebriation, he always delivers. Edwin is content to simply be his father's helper, though his younger brother John (John Derek) has his own actorly aspirations. But ten years later, in San Francisco, Junius has deteriorated to the point where he cannot remember his lines and Edwin goes on in his place as Richard III in a mining camp performance. The miners are angry at first, but he promises to give them "the damnedest Richard they have ever seen," and he is a success. That night, Junius dies and Edwin vents, worrying that his father considered only John to be his true successor, and concerned that he has inherited Junius' "taint" of alcoholism. Of course, we know what happens to John, whose middle name is Wilkes: he turns from acting to political rabble-rousing and eventually assassinates President Lincoln. For his part, Edwin does take on the mantle of his father, but also battles a drinking problem, and, after the assassination, battles a suspicious public who wants to reject him because of his brother. Burton is very good, and Massey is even better, but the whole thing feels rather stagy and episodic, and even though we see scenes from Edwins's private life (relations with his sister and his wife), this never gets below the surface of the man. The many scenes of Shakespeare are pulled off nicely, with the added bonus of seeing the great stage actress Eva Le Gallienne playing Hamlet's mother. Burton fans will love this, both others may not be so enthralled. [TCM]

No comments: