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Saturday, September 12, 2009

DON KIKHOT / DON QUIXOTE (1957)

Knowing how directors like G. W. Pabst, Orson Welles, Terry Gilliam & Arthur Hiller(!) all failed (in one way or another) at getting Cervantes’ epic up on the screen does give this Grigori Kozintsev prestige pic the advantage of lowered expectations. The Soviet helmer, best known for weighty adaptations of HAMLET/'66 and KING LEAR/'71, turned out a handsome product, well-paced, with a clear-eyed take on the story. He maintains enough complications to keep the woeful knight from becoming a ‘wise’ madman cliché and had the hefty budget and generally fine cast to back him up. The Sancho Panza hams things up (don't they all), but Nikolai Cherkassov, Sergei Eisenstein’s Nevsky & Ivan, makes an exceptional, absurdly elongated 'Kikhot.' If only Kozintsev weren't so bi-polar behind the camera, with beautifully rendered location shooting wedding landscape to character & action, then staging his busy interiors with all the finesse of a third-rate touring opera company. Still, it may well be the best feature-length Quixote out there, and the Ruscico-DVD is more than acceptable. By the way, don’t worry that you missed the windmill sequence, it’s been moved toward the end and to their credit, they don't overmilk it. Along with the court scenes, where the formal behavior of the grandees and 'Kikhot's' humiliation are perfectly matched with Kozintsev's stiff WideScreen compositions, it's the best realized sequence in here. (Set the audio on the mono track to improve the echo-chamber sound.)

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