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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV (1958)

From 1958 to 1967, writer-director Richard Brooks rummaged almost exclusively amongst literary giants: Dostoevsky, Conrad, Tennessee Williams, Sinclair Lewis & Truman Capote. Maybe he thought some of their quality would rub off. He started in DostoevskyLand, working off an adaptation from the Brothers Epstein (Julius & Philip) with a story clarified to the point of reductio ad absurdum. Sure, BK is a murder mystery, but it’s not only a murder mystery. We’d all guess the outcome and make a short night of it; MURDER, FYODOR WROTE misses a lot. Especially so when the texture of Russian life goes missing in the art direction, and philosophical/religious elements get tip-toed around or simply short-sheeted. A pity, since the film’s brothers are rather better than you expect. You can easily see the bits of himself Dostoevsky put into the three legit brother (Brynner; Basehart; Shatner) while Albert Salmi’s bastard blusters away in reasonable Bolshoi fashion. And though Claire Bloom looks gorgeous and does a neat slow-burn as the romantic cast-off, no one else quite comes off. Lee J. Cobb roars monotonously as Papa K, while Maria Schell’s turn as a shady seductress cold-cocked her Hollywood debut. (She uses the same naughty smile for every occasion. It’s like watching the return of Luise Rainer.) The original MetroColor on the Warner Archive DVD has faded and lost crispness, but boosting your monitor’s contrast, saturation & sharpness levels gives an acceptable pic. If only it could also improve the staging & editing of the film’s two most important scenes: the murder of you-know-who, and the big re-enactment explanation/confession. Fortunately, Brooks doesn’t have to deal with Father Zossima’s famous Christ parable since this crucial (if nearly unreadable) chapter never shows up.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Maria Schell had just starred in one of the great Dostoevsky adaptations, Luchino Visconti’s LE NOTTI BLANCHE (WHITE NIGHTS). An update that connects with its source material in a manner unimaginable from Brooks & Co. With Marcello Mastroianni, Jean Marais, an astonishment for a set & some bopping Italian Rock & Roll.

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