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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

THE CITADEL (1938)

This prestige item from M-G-M’s London outpost looks like a neglected masterpiece for the first two reels, but it loses focus trying to handle an over-loaded story and the novel’s dogmatic tone. Robert Donat is just about perfect (isn’t he always?) as a young, idealistic doctor who rises & falls in a coal-mining town before finding himself improbably rich & successful (but empty) as a society doctor in London. Rosalind Russell makes a nice start as his feisty wife, British accent and all, but shows little aptitude for marital misery. A tremendous supporting cast helps (Rex Harrison as a doctor with a great bedside manner; Cecil Parker as a highly placed, utterly incompetent surgeon; Emlyn Williams as a sympathetic union man; and a heavenly turn by Ralph Richardson as a union doctor with the heart of a anarchist), but the structural problems of cramming two stories with three acts apiece into two hours seems to defeat that great but uneven helmer King Vidor. Flawed as it is, the film is on the side of the angels and more than watchable. Perhaps the story doesn’t feel so cramped & preachy in the 1983 10-part BBC mini-series with a well cast Ben Cross. Alas, it’s currently unavailable.

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