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Thursday, August 4, 2011

BHOWANI JUNCTION (1956)

George Cukor was always a more accomplished visual stylist than his stage-to-screen-specialist reputation got him credit for. That said, his remake of A STAR IS BORN/’54 raised the bar with the addition of four key ingredients: Color; CinemaScope; art director Gene Allen; & fashion photographer George Hoyningen-Heune as visual consultant. The results were ravishing, and, with Freddie Young’s cinematography added to the mix, this film makes a worthy, if totally different, follow up. It remains ludicrously underrated. Filmed in Pakistan, and set during the run-up to Indian independence, it has an epic swagger unlike anything Cukor ever did. (It gives you an idea of what an all-Cukor GONE WITH THE WIND might have been like. Er . . . if Ava Gardner had played Scarlett!) Ava Gardner, in one of her best perfs, is superbly cast as an Anglo-Indian who doesn’t know how she fits into the new India. She has three affairs in the film, not so much trying on lovers (mixed-race, Indian, British) as trying out identities. While out in the streets, the teeming masses strike, riot, murder, & plot revolution. In theory, this lends scale & urgency to Gardner’s personal story, but the lines of action aren’t as well integrated as they might be. In particular, the climax, which involves a politically motivated bomb plot by Communist agitators, feels tacked on to generate suspense and an old-fashioned ride to the rescue. But so much is stunningly caught by Cukor & his team that you barely notice . . . or mind. Alas, you do notice . . . and mind, how much studio post-production interference reshaped the film into a tamer, more conventional framework than had been originally intended.

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