EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?
|EQUUS (director: Sidney Lumet; screenwriter: Peter Shaffer/based on the play by Peter Shaffer; cinematographer: Oswald Morris; editor: John Victor-Smith; music: Richard Rodney Bennett; cast: Richard Burton (Dr. Martin Dysart), Peter Firth (Alan Strang), Colin Blakely (Frank Strang), Joan Plowright (Dora Strang), Harry Andrews (Harry Dalton), Eileen Atkins (Magistrate Hester Saloman), Jenny Agutter (Jill Mason), Kate Reid (Margaret Dysart), John Wyman (Horseman); Runtime: 137; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Elliott Kastner/Lester Persky; MGM Home Entertainment; 1977-UK)|
|"A compelling thriller."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Based on Peter
Shaffer's successful psychological play, that ran for three
years on Broadway. Shaffer adapted
his own play to the screen. Under the respectful direction
of Sidney Lumet ("Serpico"/"Network"/"The Verdict")
it's brought to the screen as a compelling thriller (it was shot on location in Toronto). Its major problem is that its theatrical
symbolism cannot easily be transferred to the screen, as its shocking
sexual-religious symbolism loses its power when the tragic incidents
are realistically acted out.
Magistrate Hester Saloman (Eileen
Atkins) wants middle-aged psychiatrist Dr. Martin Dysart (Richard
Burton), who administers a
progressive English hospital for the mentally ill youth, to treat the
17-year-old Alan Strang (Peter
Firth), a stable boy who one
night in a rage blinded six horses with a metal spike in the barn where
he worked for Mr. Dalton (Harry Andrews). Using the Freudian method the morose Martin investigates the dark
secrets of his troubled patient's life: that includes visits with
Alan's overbearing religious mother (Joan Plowright) and his cold
printer father (Colin Blakely), getting to the bottom of the kid's
experiences with horses, the kid's elevating the horse to a god-like
status of worship as a personal deity, his relationship with the young
stable girl Jill Mason (Jenny Agutter) and, in the shrink's attempt to
unravel the mysteries of the troubled kid's mind to make him normal
again, the shrink examines his own repressed life and loveless
It's the playwright's belief that the cure might be worse than the problem, as it's suggested by removing Alan's demons and returning him to "normal" life will in effect emotionally lobotomize the kid by removing his passion for living. Unfortunately, this sounded like horseshit and made me wary of everything about this hyperbolic theatrical production.
It plays out as a suspense
yarn, that is built around investigating the crude mysticism of the
patient. It goes on for so long, that it might think itself a primer
for a course on abnormal psychology.
Firth, who was in the stage
version, gives a superb flawless performance as the freaky perp; while
Burton articulates well and delivers his patented critic-pleasing
monologues to the camera. But for me, he's not that convincing as a
probing miracle-worker shrink. Shaffer's
tale of myth, religion, sexual inadequacy and madness, though
intelligently presented, never provokes us to do any further thinking
as it told all in wrapping things up in such a tidy bundle.
The title is derived from the name for the genus of animals to which horses belong.
REVIEWED ON 5/9/2011 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ