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DVD SAVANT

Cyrano de Bergerac


Cyrano de Bergerac
Image / Hal Roach
1950 / B&W / 1:37 flat full frame / 112 min. / Street Date May 18, 2004 / 19.99
Starring José Ferrer, Mala Powers, William Prince, Morris Carnovsky, Don Beddoe, Percy Helton
Cinematography Frank Planer
Production Designer Rudolph Sternad
Film Editor Henry Gerstad
Original Music Dimitri Tiomkin
Written by Carl Foreman from a play by Edmond Rostand
Produced by Stanley Kramer
Directed by Michael Gordon

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.

Synopsis:

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 death-confession 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 commercials.

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
Video: Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 21, 2004





DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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