The Pride and the Passion is proof that throwing a big budget, an epic scope, the biggest stars, and a prestige director resulting in a piece of instant mediocrity isn't exclusive to our contemporary blockbuster obsessed Hollywood. It's a bustling and crowded period war epic, massive in size especially whenever you realize that the hundreds of soldiers and war gear you see during the sweeping long shots are all real and can't be CG creations. It stars Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, and Sophia Loren still at the height of their popularity, oozing charm, charisma, and sexuality through their pores. It was directed by Stanley Kramer, a filmmaker so meticulous and forward thinking, that almost half of his films are not merely great, but can be easily considered timeless masterpieces. It's hard to claim that even with some of our favorite directors.
Watching this paint-by-numbers Hollywood epic, it was hard to wrap my mind around the fact that Kramer directed it. Even with films of his that I don't think completely works (I find Guess Who's Coming to Dinner to be a bit too simplistic in the way it dealt with race relations at the time), you can always see his passion for the subject matter and the story on the screen. Without his justified anger and his struggle to humanize the Nazi atrocities during WWII, the great Judgment at Nuremberg wouldn't have become the best courtroom drama ever made, even with Abby Mann's perfect screenplay.
Therefore it's ironic that with a title like The Pride and the Passion, this is the first Kramer film I've seen that doesn't contain any of his trademark passion. It tells the story of a group of soldiers who are fighting the French army during the Napoleonic Wars, as they struggle to move a giant cannon across Spain in order to beat the enemy. In charge of the mission are English soldier Anthony (Cary Grant) and Spanish fighter Miguel (Frank Sinatra with embarrassing brown face and an even more embarrassing accent), whose entire purpose in the paper thin plot is to argue and bicker over minor issues while forgetting they're fighting on the same side.
Of course it turns out that the main reason behind their rivalry is to gain the love of the sensual but tough Juana (Sophia Loren), who inhabits the old Hollywood archetype of the "independent and strong" woman who instantly turns into an obedient and weak housewife in dire need of being taken care of by a man the second a romantic angle presents itself. So for two hours, we're subjected to a painfully episodic structure, with scenes of the soldiers trying to move the cannon intercut with shoehorned sequences about the awkwardly placed love triangle. The humdrumness of the story is occasionally broken with superfluous action set pieces, such as an obviously studio mandated knife fight scene. By the time we get to the bombastic climax, we get a glorious ballet of pretty explosions and rah-rah heroism, but by that point it's hard to care about any of these depthless characters.
The technical achievements of the film of course can't be ignored. This is an expensive and impressive-looking epic, with a lot of gorgeous vista shots of hundreds of extras moving the cannon through the serene countryside. Kramer always displayed a minimum amount of competency, no matter how inconsequential the project.
Olive Films' 1080p transfer contains the label's usual amount of dirt and specks on the film print. This label basically gives us the best possible version of more obscure titles on home video, that's about it. We can't expect a Criterion-level restoration. That being said, the bright Technicolor look of the film is represented really well.
My pet peeve of encoding mono mixes into two-channel tracks continues in this DTS-HD 2.0 track. Is it really that hard to create a 1.0 track that we can listen to through the center speaker only? Otherwise, the mix between the score and the dialogue is pretty subtle, and the rousing music definitely gets a lot of definition when it appears. I also like that this time around, Olive gives us the option of English subtitles.
As a big fan of Kramer's work, it brings me no pleasure to say that The Pride and the Passion doesn't contain almost any of this great director's unique style and narrative approach. It's a lifeless old Hollywood misfire that's best forgotten.