Cecil B. DeMille ended 45 years in film with a thuddingly loud whimper, producing this D.O.A. remake of his own lively 1938 historical. Son-in-law Anthony Quinn’s painfully stiff megging usually takes the blame, certainly so in DeMille’s eyes, but there’s plenty of dead weight to go around, especially in the film’s inept story construction. OLIVE FILMS (already out with the yummy '38 edition) have sourced an impeccable print which helps the film get off to a jolly start as DeMille gives a personal introduction/blessing before the gorgeous title credits roll, followed by a weirdly artificial, but effective prologue with Charlton Heston’s Andrew Jackson & a young army recruit on a foggy, expressionistic, soundstage battlefront. Then the film proper starts . . . or rather, should start. Quinn immediately loses control of the narrative and never quite relocates it, wasting some good perfs (Yul Brynner; Charles Boyer; Heston), unable to bury some bad ones (E. G.. Marshall; Lorne Green; Henry Hull). And what’s up with Claire Bloom’s wild tomcat routine? Even a can‘t miss boy-and-his-dog subplot dies from weak casting. (Instead, enjoy the dueling toupees of Marshall & Brynner.) Dreary doings for a tale of venal & valiant pirates playing both sides in the War of 1812. But then comes The Battle of New Orleans; and you’ve never seen the like. Undoubtedly shot not by Quinn, but by longtime DeMille second unit man Arthur Rosson, we return to that fogged up soundstage battlefield as stunningly costumed Brits (in Technicolor/VistaVision RED) make their charge at Jackson’s patriotic units (in BLUE and BROWN). All laid out in the fashion of one of those historically-informed epic murals you might find on the curved walls of a State Capital Building. It out DeMille’s DeMille . . . if only for a single reel of film.
DOUBLE-BILL: C. B.'s original THE BUCCANEER from '38, especially for all those DeMille agnostics.