|JUAREZ (director: William Dieterle; screenwriter: John Huston/Wolfgang Reinhardt/MacKenzie/based on Bertita Harding's book The Phantom Crown/based on the play Juarez and Maximilian by Franz Werfel; cinematographer: Tony Gaudio; editor: Warren Low; music: Erich Wolfgang Korngold; cast: Paul Muni (President Benito Pablo Juarez), Bette Davis (Empress Carlotta von Hapsburgh), John Garfield (Pofirio Diaz), Brian Aherne (Emperor Maximillian), Claude Rains (Napoleon III), Gale Sondergaard (Empress Eugenie), Louis Calhern (LeMarc), Donald Crisp (Marechal Bazaine), Joseph Calleia (Alejandro Uradi), Henry O'Neill (Miguel Miramon), Gilbert Roland (Col. Miguel Lopez), Harry Davenport (Dr. Samuel Basch); Runtime: 132; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hal B. Wallis; Warner Bros.; 1939)|
|"A dull epic
directed without inspiration by William Dieterle."
by Dennis Schwartz
epic directed without inspiration by William Dieterle
("The Last Flight"/"Dr. Socrates"/"The Hunchback of
Notre Dame"), that fails to sparkle despite a
distinguished cast. The historical period costume
drama, shot in black and white, moves along at a slow
pace, is plodding and its well-researched facts about
the 19th century French monarchy trickily established
in Mexico doesn't translate that well to the big
screen. It was re-written by star Paul Muni's
brother-in-law to the dismay of co-writer John Huston,
who claimed the edited version to make Muni the star,
with more dialogue, of a film that was supposed to be
about the French as exploiters and not about a Mexican
liberator, was a disaster that ruined the film's
previously excellent script. The two protagonists,
Juarez and Maximilian, never meet, and it appears as
if two films were shot--first the story of Maximilian,
followed by the re-written story of Juarez (with the
added dialogue the now almost forgotten Muni insisted
upon, who had the star clout at the time to command
that change from Warner's Brothers). It's based
on the play Juarez and Maximilian by Franz Werfel and the novel The Phantom Crown by Bertita Harding.
Emperor Louis Napoleon III (Claude Rains) of France,
towards the end of the American Civil War, in 1863, in
order to colonize Mexico and subvert the growth of
democracy and to
circumvent the Monroe Doctrine, chooses to appoint the
naive Austrian young Maximillian (Brian Aherne), the
archduke of Hapsburgh, to be the emperor of Mexico,
despite the Mexican republic's recent election to
president of an Indian native named Benito Juarez (Paul Muni). The idealistic new
monarch never intended to be a puppet of Napoleon, and
believed the plebiscite in Mexico to accept the
monarchy was legit but finds no support when arriving
in Mexico to rule and realizes Napoleon tricked him.
Maximillian takes over rule from the patriotic
(Paul Muni) and tries to recruit him unsuccessfully
to be his prime minister. But Juarez, not satisfied
with the monarchy confiscating the land he returned
to the peons and the over-all concept of a monarchy,
chooses revolt over the intended benign monarchy and
eventually causes the downfall of Maximillian and
his loyal wife, the Empress Carlotta (Bette Davis).
When Napoleon wishes to avoid an
American attack, after its Civil War ends, he
withdraws French forces from Mexico. Meanwhile
Carlotta suffers a nervous breakdown while in France
arguing for the return of troops and support for her
husband's fair-play reform efforts. Upon the troop
withdrawal Juarez defeats Maximillian, who is
executed by the rebel firing squad.
In a small part John
Garfield gives a good performance as the rebel
general Diaz, despite his Bronx accent; while Gale Sondergaard is nice
and snarky as Napoleon's crafty wife.
Muni's performance is muted, while Rains and Aherne
perform well but are vics of the stifling script.
It's a pic that maybe could have been great if allowed to flourish as first written, instead it suffers from its stilted look and an insufferable Hollywood-like leftist political agenda.
REVIEWED ON 9/5/2013 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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