Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
José Ferrer got the Oscar for his impressive performance as the hammy long-nosed
Frenchman who wouldn't shut up; the picture was a big early success for independent producer
Stanley Kramer. Helped by clever art direction and an excellent score, Cyrano de Bergerac
became a television favorite for thirty years.
Swordsman and poet Cyrano de Bergerac (José Ferrer) loves the beautiful
Roxanne (Mala Powers) but finds out that she favors the handsome Christian de Neuvillette (William
Prince). He woos her for the younger man, substituting his poetry for Christian's tongue-tied
lack of imagination. But war with Spain intervenes to change all of their fates.
Rostand's Cyrano is full of romance, unabashed sentimentality and cornball poetry presented with
good will and substantial wit. Carl Foreman's screenplay retains the stage talk but manages to open
the film up just enough not to avoid stuffiness. This Cyrano fights two major duels in the first
reel, and then the plot settles down to the time honored substitute-lover gambit, the one imitated
ad infinitum in other plots and situation comedies. Christian is handsome but an inarticulate
oaf. Cyrano has a nose that starts swordfights and scares women but possesses a poet's tongue that
could woo a stone statue.
Michael Gordon was a fine director of actors and considering the limited resources of Cyrano de
Bergerac his accomplishment here is impressive. He later helmed Pillow Talk, forging a
style of romantic comedy that would stay in vogue for twenty years.
Perhaps the narrow Academy frame helps but the sets and costumes never look shabby or cheap, and
even the battle scenes filmed on an interior sound stage don't look cramped. Gordon keeps us focused
on the emotions and the actors, and everything else takes a subordinate position.
It's José Ferrer's show of course and he holds the screen with the best of them, just as
he'd later run away with any movie foolish enough to cast him in a small part (The Caine
Mutiny, for one). His voice and mannerisms are fresh and free of stage posing, so even when he
stands still making flowery talk about sunsets and broken hearts, we buy it. The abundance of
comedy in the script is a big help. His disgusted reaction after Christian (an okay William
Prince) flops with Roxanne is really funny. Cyrano is a rounded character who fights like a hero
but suffers like a fool in love, and it's hard not to empathize with him. We just plain like the guy.
Carl Foreman's script maneuvers itself into a coda fifteen years down the road, with Cyrano making a
to Roxanne that it was he who loved her all the time. It's calculated, obvious and yet works
extremely well. Audiences loved Cyrano, José was inaugurated as a star and Stanley Kramer
had the hit (among a pile of flopperoos) that kept him afloat until
High Noon and his fight with Carl
Foreman. The nun in the final scene by the way, is Virginia Christine, later memorable in
Invasion of the Body Snatchers and as Mrs. Olsen on the long-running Folger's coffee
The supporting cast is adequate but not much more, although the film is focuses so closely on Cyrano
it would hardly make a difference. Familiar faces like Don Beddoe and Percy Helton add
appropriate color. It would be nice to say that genre beauty Mala Powers (The City that Never
Sleeps, The Unknown Terror, The Colossus of New York) is a plus, but although she handles
the lines well, she doesn't really shine. This is too bad, as she's one of the prettiest
discoveries of the 50s - she'd just done the groundbreaking Outrage for director Ida Lupino,
possibly the first American sound feature to focus exclusively on the experience of rape from the
victim's point of view.
Image / Hal Roach's copy of Cyrano de Bergerac is very good, almost completely intact and
runs at the proper speed (no PAL acceleration here). The image is greyish and a tad soft but has
a nice look and was clearly taken from good elements. The sound is recorded a bit low but is
clear, which is important to hear all the velvet dialogue without the hiss and pops of old 16mm prints.
There's an incredibly hyped trailer that sells the movie as an action item. The audio on the
trailer is almost twice the volume of the feature, so consider your eardrums warned.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Cyrano de Bergerac rates:
Movie: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 21, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson