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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

PHAEDRA (1962)

It's Greek Tragedy as LA DOLCE VITA in this hit-and-miss Jules Dassin update. The basic love triangle remains as Raf Vallone’s Greek shipping tycoon sends queenly wife Melina Mercouri to entice estranged step-son Anthony Perkins home. Only Step-Son finds Step-Mom a little too enticing. Dassin, reveling in a real budget after scraping NEVER ON SUNDAY/’60 together on a dime, uses the handsome production design to fine effect (crowds of EuroTrash!; ships & shipyard cranes!, ladies in couture!, an Aston Martin!), but has trouble figuring out how naturalistically his worldly mythological cast of characters should speak. Tough when Mercouri brings largeness but little range while Perkins has range without largeness. (His small-features giving him a puppet-like vibe.) Perhaps with more rehearsal (and more discipline from the exuberant Ms. Mercouri), their relative strengths & weaknesses could have interlocked into something whole. Instead, a sort of magnetic repulsion, especially compared to Vallone who has the bearing & range to bring the whole package to life . . . and buries the worst lines under a strong Italian accent. Yet there are times when you can’t look away (for better and for worse): an impromptu discus challenge at a dance party; Mercouri in white, slicing thru mourners in black; Perkins spiraling out of control to a mad soliloquy. Maybe Dassin just went with the wrong 1960 film, he should have skipped LA DOLCE VITA and gone with L’AVVENTURA.

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