Cyrano de Begerac is joyous, witty, a poet, a leader and filled with plenty of charisma and bravado in 17th Century France. He has only one flaw: an unusually long nose which makes him ...
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The Royal Shakespeare Company's stage production of the story about the large-nosed swordsman/poet who writes love letters to Roxane, the woman he adores, to court her for the handsome ... See full summary »
Michael A. Simpson
While best known today for having composed the ending to Puccini's unfinished Turandot, Franco Alfano wrote some dozen operas, including Cyrano de Bergerac (1936) with a libretto by Henri ... See full summary »
Cyrano de Begerac is joyous, witty, a poet, a leader and filled with plenty of charisma and bravado in 17th Century France. He has only one flaw: an unusually long nose which makes him unattractive to any woman. Thus, he cannot have the woman he loves, his cousin Roxanne. Roxanne loves an officer in his army who gets tongue-tied in front of women. Who will Roxanne love? Will Cyrano ever find love? Or will he find happiness in helping the officer woo Roxanne? This is a story of split personalities, human frailty and unrequited love.Written by
A curio? a museum piece? One despairs sometimes at the persistence of this ridiculous "anti-silent" prejudice. This is a fine film and easily stands comparison with other filmed versions of Rostand's play. It is one of the very few full-length features to be made entirely by the hand-coloured process (the 1912 Das Mirakel/The Miracle being in fact the only other that comes to mind). The colours in the restored version are a little washed-out but Pathéchrome by this time is perfectly comparable with the two main "natural" colour systems in use (Kinemacolor and 2-strip Technicolor) with the advantage in a costume-drama of providing a more "painterly" quality. For comparison see Toll of the Sea 1922, The Black Pirate 1926 or The Viking 1928 (Technicolor). As far as I know no films entirely in Kinemacolor survive.
While Augusto Genina is not the greatest of directors, he was at his best capable of some very fine work (the superb Prix de Beauté in 1930 with Louise Brooks) and this, the brief period when he ran his own production company with his cousin Mario Camerini, is his most creative period. His later films, especially during the fascist period, are rather pedestrian.
The evocation of the Paris streets and of the theatre with which the films begins are particularly fine, better I think than in any other film-version I have seen. (I have not seen the 1946 French version - said to be "faithful but flat").
The duel scene that follows is evidently tricky to do justice to in a silent version because it relies so heavily on verbal wit, which has to be severely cut back. Nevertheless it is intelligently achieved using a mixture of title-cards and (most unusually) superimposed titles. The scene is much shorter than in later sound versions which use more of Rostand's text and is probably the weakest point of this film.
The revelation of Cyrano's love is achieved much more economically (and much more cinematically) than in other versions. There then follows the magnificent scene of the bakery/rotisserie which easily outstrips later versions The defence of the baker against his assailants is in some ways better realised in the 1950 film. Oddly for a French film and such a lavish production in other respects, this Genina version puts very little effort into the fight-scenes. However the crowd-scenes that follow are excellent.
The garrison scene, strongly visual, is particularly good in this version. The balcony scene equally good (for different reasons) in the 1923 and 1950 versions. In the marriage scene, where Cyrano has to hold off de Guiche and tells stories of fantastic inventions, this version dramatises those stories on screen in a kind of dream-sequence. This is a very fine idea, because the allusion (intended by Rostand) to Cyrano's (the real Cyrano) science fiction (a sort of earlier version of Münchhausen) is made here very graphic and clear, but also incorporates an entirely appropriate visual allusion (obviously not intended by Rostand) to the films of Georges Méliès (exactly oontemporaneous with the play although very probably quite unknown to Rostand). So this very clever scene actually works better in this film than in any other version but also rather better than in the play itself by profiting from an effect that only cinema can achieve.
The war scenes are much better in this film including a flute-playing scene that relies - as "silent" films often did - on sound accompaniment. Despite some good cinematography, the fake sets of the 1950 film cannot really compete.
In the final scene, Cyrano and his baker friend are genuinely old and impoverished (a rather nice insert shows the baker's new humble profession) while they seem little changed in the 1950 film. Magnier in fact contrives to make the older Cyrano resemble Don Quixote which is a very neat idea and shows again how much thought has gone into this film because it refers back to an exchange between Cyrano and De Guiche much earlier in the film.
The last line of the 1950 film is a disaster, as always when this translation is used, because of the inability to render the French play on words. Why on earth the French word panache (sufficiently comprehensible in English in both its senses) is not retained, I do not know.
The strength of the black-and-white 1950 film (a curio? a museum piece?) lies purely in the fine performance (but essentially a stage-performance) by José Ferrer. Cinematically and photographically it has none of the interest of the silent film. It suffers from the very obvious studio sets and also from the fact that it is not in French and that one has to make do with Hooker's pastiche seventeenth-century English semi-verse and occasional mistranslations. Despite Ferrer, it is often tediously over-talkative for a film and the support-cast, of much more importance in a talking version, is rather mediocre. The film is also rather humourless, which the play is not intended to be.
The 1950 films is the record of a fine (if somewhat single-toned) performance (Ferrer first plays Cyrano on Broadway in October 1946 in the same year as Ralph Richardson played the part in London - September 1946 - and his performance constantly puts one in mind of Richardson) but this film of 1923 is a film, making use of the particular virtues of the camera. Neither version shows Roxanne as the intelligent and sensitive woman she is supposed to be although the French actress looks rather more the part. The young man is hopeless in both films, far too goofy in the silent, far too nondescript in the talkie.
The 1990 film with Depardieu is very fine and more difficult to compare but it was nearly seventy years before the cinema produced a version that could match this silent film and, even then, there remain good things here that one does not find in any other version.
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