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Thursday, June 14, 2012

THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (1934)

Warner Bros reset the template for swashbucklers by adding three key ingredients to their production of CAPTAIN BLOOD/’35: Michael Curtiz’s kinetic helming; the impossibly lush scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold; and the youthful dash of a barely known Errol Flynn. But their success didn’t come out of a vacuum, and this sturdy indie production, from producer Edward Small & helmer Rowland V Lee, was the likely budget template that helped Warners finally regain the old Doug Fairbanks’ mojo for the sound era. Because of his perf in this, Robert Donat was offered the lead in BLOOD*, and he could hardly be bettered as the wronged man who escapes from a prison dungeon to find fortune & revenge in Dumas’ oft-filmed tale. (As in most adaptations, he also finds tru-love, though the book holds to the same French romantic fatalism found in CYRANO DE BERGERAC.) And how tenderly Donat speaks the play's famous catch-phrase, 'The world is mine.' Imagine Eugene O'Neill's dad, James, bellowing the line on those endless tours that robbed him of his natural gifts; as his son's LONG DAYS JOURNEY INTO NIGHT would have it. The limited budget occasionally shows on screen here, but this is generally quite a show, with a rip-snorting pace and a second echelon cast that only occasionally let their flat Mid-Western vowels detract from a proper Continental flavor. Look for the Hen’s Tooth DVD which, though hardly pristine, represents a significant improvement (in image quality and completeness) over past editions.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Donat, who never worked in the States again, skipped BLOOD to play yet another ‘wronged man’ in Alfred Hitchcock’s THE 39 STEPS/’35. Not a bad trade-off. And he’d play modern swashbucklers in KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOR/’37 and in THE ADVENTURES OF TARTU/’43, a little seen gem that’s a bit of a precursor to James Bond.

DOUBLE-BILL: Those who can accept the absurdly docile fellows who pass for hardened prisoners in THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION/’94 can enjoy seeing how closely it follows Dumas.

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