After producing THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI/’57 and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA/’62, Sam Spiegel knew something had gone terribly wrong with David Lean’s follow-up pic, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO/’65 . . . Sam Spiegel hadn’t produced it. Worse, it wound up being the biggest cash-cow of the lot! Nothing to do but make his own damn Russian Revolution Romance: LIFE WITH NICKY. It turned out to be a rotten idea, one Spiegel never fully recovered from. Designer John Box & lenser Freddie Young, two vets from LAWRENCE and ZHIVAGO, came on board, plus Franklin Schaffner, freshly Oscar’d for PATTON/’70, to direct. But nothing could invest those Romanov waxworks with rooting interest. You’d have to go back to Louis XVI & his Marie to find a royal couple equally slow off the mark, incurious & unsympathetic. Schaffner rouses himself for Lenin & Co., at least those revolutionaries seem to be doing something, but little holds your attention. Even the pageantry bores, and the little-known leads fade before our eyes while the better-known actors get flavorless cameos. The film did get Set Direction & Costume Oscars, but that’s like winning Miss Congeniality.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Did the filmmakers really wish to convey the idea that a Russian Leopold & Loeb did away with Rasputin?
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: It has a perfectly awful rep, but the best part of this story is much better served in M-G-M’s RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS/’32. It actually manages to accumulate some real Russian flavor, most likely from its director Richard Boleslawski, a Moscow Arts Theatre vet; and it's got Ethel, Lionel & John Barrymore in their only joint appearance. This was Ethel’s first sound film, and while she takes most of the film to find her rhythm, it’s worth the wait.