Tag Archives: Laurence Olivier

Nicholas and Alexandra (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: The last Russian Tsar.

This film chronicles the life of Tsar Nicholas II (Michael Jayston) of Russia and his marriage to Alexandria (Janet Suzman). Based on the novel by Robert K. Massie it examines the height of his power and his apathy to the poverty of his people and his reluctance to listen to their needs, or consider a more democratic form of government. It also looks at his personal life including the birth of his son Alexei (Roderic Noble) who is diagnosed with hemophilia and his wife’s over-reliance on Grigori Rasputin (Tom Baker) a man pretending to have divine connections who ultimately uses his influence on Alexandra to take control over her political affairs when her husband is away. The film also portrays Russia’s involvement during WWI as well as the Tsar’s downfall and eventual exile in Siberia with his family.

The film is basically split up into three parts with the first hour looking at Nicholas’ family life while intercutting with scenes showing the discontent of the Russia people and the efforts of Vladimir Lenin (Michael Bryant) to create a revolutionary form of government. The second hour examines Russia’s war involvement and the many warnings that Nicholas is given not to get involved in it, but foolishly decides to anyways, which ultimately creates massive upheaval. The third hour looks at his abdication of power and the family’s exile and virtual imprisonment at the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg where they nervously await their fate.

Initially I thought the third hour would be the weakest as we all know they get shot and killed execution style, but to my surprise it is actually the strongest part of the film. To an extent tearing the characters away from their plush surroundings and forcing them to exist in bleak, squalor-like conditions actually humanizes them and allows the viewer to empathize with them particularly the four daughters who had nothing to do with their father’s harsh policies and just wanted a chance to grow up and live a normal life. The scene where the family is herded into the basement of the home in the early morning hours and forced to sit silently while awaiting their executioners is quite possibly one of the most intense moments ever captured on film.

The performances are uniformly strong particularly Suzman’s as well as Baker as the evil Rasputin who’s drawn out death scene may be one of the longest in movie history. Laurence Olivier in a small, but pivotal bit as the Prime Minister gets two commanding moments including his speech after the Bloody Sunday massacre and later his strong misgivings about the country’s war involvement.

The film is full of brilliant cinematography, direction, costumes and set pieces and is certainly something that must be watched on the big screen to be fully appreciated. I enjoyed the lavish interiors of the Winter Palace especially their walks down the elegant hallways that are lined with Royal guards, but found it equally interesting when Nicholas returns there after the war and forced to walk down these same hallways, which are now darkened and rundown. The many long distance shots of the flat and majestic landscape is also impressive particularly a view of a rolling sunflower field.

Although this film has never attained the well-known classic status of Doctor Zhivago, and in fact this was producer Sam Spiegal’s answer to that film when he was blocked from working on it, I still found it to be every bit as compelling and well directed.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: December 13, 1971

Runtime: 3Hours 8Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

 

The Boys from Brazil (1978)

exorcist

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mad doctor clones Hitler.

Based on the best-selling novel by Ira Levin the story details an elaborate plan devised by the elusive Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck) who has been hiding out in the jungles of Paraguay and has a secret meeting with several Third Reich war criminals that is overheard by novice Nazi Hunter Barry Kohler (Steven Guttenberg) and relayed to Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier). The plan calls for these war criminals to go out and murder 94 65-year-old men who are living in various parts of the world as Mengele has saved a sample of Hitler’s DNA and impregnated 94 women with it at a Brazilian clinic. These Hitler clones have now grown to adolescence and need to be put in the exact same environment as the real Hitler had been in order to bring out the same personality traits, so it’s important that their fathers die at the same time as Hitler’s real father had. At first Lieberman cannot believe such an outrageous plot, but as the evidence mounts he realizes it is true and he may be unable to stop it.

The film has two great scenes which includes an eye popping death from a steep mountain bridge and a graphic moment where we see in close-up Mengele place the ovum with Hitler’s DNA into the women. Outside of these two moments the film is rather flat and cheesy with certain segments bordering on camp. The plot is intricate enough to keep you involved, but highly implausible and the characters take a long time to realize things that the viewer has already figured out long before.

It is fun seeing Peck playing a bad guy and this was his first villainous role since Duel in the Sun and although he does well in the part the character is so one dimensionally evil that it ultimately makes him boring. Olivier is not effective in the lead and comes off as frail and sickly with certain comical overtones given to the character that don’t work. The final confrontation between he and Peck in which the two roll around on the floor while grappling for a gun looks more pathetic than exciting and apparently the scene had to be reshoot several times because both actors kept breaking out into laughter over the absurdity of it. I did feel though that Guttenberg was perfectly cast as a wide-eyed schmuck that was in way over-his-head.

Spoiler Alert!

My biggest problem with the film though is the ending that turns out to be a big letdown. For one thing it takes place at a remote farmhouse, which seems too similar to a scene in Marathon Man, which came out just two years earlier, had a similar theme and also starred Olivier. It features nine Doberman pinchers with four of them that surround the farm’s owner (played by actor John Dehner) at all times. He uses them for protection as he is convinced someone is out to get him, which could’ve created quite an interesting scenario when Mengele travels to the home to kill him. However, the owner puts the dogs into another room the second Mengele tells him that they make him uncomfortable, which then allows Mengele to shoot the man without any problems, but why have the dogs for protection if you’re just going to put them away the minute some stranger doesn’t like them and if the character is so paranoid why even allow a stranger into your home without at least demanding some form of identification first?

End of Spoiler Alert!

The conclusion is unsatisfying as it leaves open a ton of unanswered questions. Not only is the plot full of loopholes, but it seems like only a springboard to a much more fascinating story, which is trying to hunt down all these Hitler clones that the film fails to realize.

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My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 5, 1978

Runtime: 2Hours 3Minutes

Rated R

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix Streaming