DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
RASPUTIN, THE MAD MONK (director: Don Sharp; screenwriter: Anthony Hinds; cinematographer: Michael Reed; editor: Roy Hyde; music: Don Banks; cast: Christopher Lee (Grigori Rasputin), Richard Pasco (Dr Boris Zargo), Barbara Shelley (Sonia Vasilivitch), Francis Matthews (Ivan Keznikov), Suzan Farmer (Vanessa Keznikov), Dinsdale Landen (Peter Vasilivitch), Renee Asherson (Tsarina Alexandra), Derek Francis (Innkeeper), Mary Quinn (Anna), John Bailey (Dr Zieglov), Michael Cadman (Michael), Fiona Hartford (Tania), Suzan Farmer (Vanessa), Robert Duncan (Alexi), Joss Ackland (The Bishop); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Anthony Nelson Keys; Warner Bros.; 1966-UK)

 
"It features Christopher Lee in one of his more powerful performances."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

It features Christopher Lee in one of his more powerful performances, as he plays with rolling eyes and hyper madness the hypnotic mystical charlatan Russian pre-revolutionary monk in a B-film storyline that boldly mixes horror and history. Threatened with law suits by relatives of those royalists associated with the killing of the monk, the Hammer Studio decided to fictionalize the history and just make it as plain entertainment. That's reflected in the wild-eyed direction by Don Sharp ("The Face of Fu Manchu "/"The Curse of the Fly"/"Kiss of the Vampire") and the titillating but superficial screenplay by Anthony Hinds, that was so inadequate it left the film as a stilted unsatisfactory work despite Lee mopping up the screen as the incarnation of the Devil.

Hammer used the same sets from its Dracula film just completed. In the opening scene, at the turn-of-the-century, in the Russian countryside, the slovenly monk Grigori Rasputin (Christopher Lee) uses his hands to take the fever out of the innkeeper's (Derek Francis) dying wife (Mary Quinn). That's something the regular doctors couldn't do. The grateful innkeeper throws a drinking party for the healer, who gets so drunk he tries to seduce the innkeeper’s pretty daughter (Fiona Hartford) in the barn. When stopped by her fiance (Michael Cadman), the monk severs his hand with a scythe and is run out of town by the irate locals. When the bishop (Joss Ackland) of his monastery learns of this incident, he calls him the Devil and gives Rasputin the boot. In St Petersburg, Rasputin goes to the disreputable Cafe Tsigani and gets into a drinking competition with a disbarred doctor, Dr Boris Zargo (Richard Pasco). Rasputin also meets at the bar, while dancing, Sonia (Barbara Shelley), a handmaid to the Tsarina (Renee Asherson), who went their slumming with her brother Peter (Dinsdale Landen) and friends to escape a boring charity ball. The diabolical monk later demeans Sonia and hypnotizes her into creating an accident for the young prince heir Alexei (Robert Duncan) and then gets her to recommend him as healer to the Tsarina. There's no mention here that Alexei was a hemophiliac, as was the case. With that success, Rasputin now has influence over the Tsarina and packs the court with those cronies he recommends and has them owe their allegiance to him. Now finding Sonia tiresome and useless to him, he hypnotizes her to kill herself. When her brother Peter discovers her suicide, he goes alone to Rasputin to avenge her death but is blinded by acid and dies a slow, painful death. Zargo, disillusioned with the power-hungry monk, tries poisoning him with sweets and stabbing him in the neck with a syringe, but can't kill the devil monk. But while dying, the doctor gets help from the noble military man Ivan Keznikov (Francis Matthews), a dear friend of Sonia and Peter, and they manage to get rid of Rasputin for good by tossing him out the palace window.

In real-life Rasputin was murdered by a group of assassins on December 29, 1916, on the eve of the Russian Revolution.

Everything about this low-budget production seemed unconvincing, dreary and rushed.

REVIEWED ON 5/13/2011       GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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