Eclipse Series 20: George Bernard Shaw on Film

Discuss DVDs released in the Eclipse and Essential Art House lines and the films on them.
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Michael Kerpan
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Re: Eclipse Series 20: George Bernard Shaw on Film

#26 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu May 27, 2010 9:20 am

Just wondering if your objection might be to the underlying Shaw foundation itself -- or just the film treatment in this particular film. ;~}

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Re: Eclipse Series 20: George Bernard Shaw on Film

#27 Post by domino harvey » Thu May 27, 2010 4:44 pm

Ah. I don't object to the ideas (as best as I can suss them out), moreso their muddy execution in the film. I suspect the play makes more sense, but I'm also not sure I like the base material enough to seek it out-- nor should I have to! That alone makes the film a failure (even if, as I said, I did still kind of like it)

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Re: Eclipse Series 20: George Bernard Shaw on Film

#28 Post by david hare » Thu May 27, 2010 6:13 pm

Sorry, one of my less coherent posts!

No I think the movies are turgid, clumsy realizations of the texts. Even the fabbo Production design can't rescue Caesar and Cleo from total dullness. The real beauty, and a superb screenplay adaptation is Pygmalion which of course doesn't figure here. But Asquith was a real director! And the leads are flawless.

Shaw is one of those people I havent read since the 60s - he was part of my first wave of serious reading as a teenager along with Orwell, and Wells and EM Forster. I can narely remember the plays now apart from the preponderance of very dominant women who figure throughout - Barbara, Cleopatra, Mrs Warren, and of course Pygmalion. What I do remember him for very fondly, apart from the whole Utopian idealism of Fabian socialism, is the wonderfrul music criticism, and his ongoing feud with Eduard Hanslick - the whole Brahms vs Wagner silliness that went on for decades. He's a terrific music commentator.

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Re: Eclipse Series 20: George Bernard Shaw on Film

#29 Post by bottled spider » Fri May 28, 2010 11:21 am

In my teens I read Major Barbara and saw a thrilling stage production of it.

The film insists on showing on screen virtually all of what had been off-stage action in the play, lending the film an aerated quality. At the same time, lines have been cut, reducing the clarity of Undershaft's moral argument. It's been a long time, but my recollection is that the play was both clearer and more concise.

The movie's enjoyable enough, and worth watching once, but not something I'll watch again.

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Re: Eclipse Series 20: George Bernard Shaw on Film

#30 Post by domino harvey » Fri Aug 14, 2015 12:36 pm

Having now seen the other two films in the set, I can safely write this one off as a good idea in theory but in practice a pretty lousy Eclipse set. Caesar and Cleopatra at least has some remnants of being filmed theatre and plenty of entertaining passages along the way in this tale of the friendship between Vivien Leigh's infantile Cleopatra and Claude Rains' Julius Caesar, even if the movie never offers anything that just reading the source couldn't provide. Some, uh, interesting racial depictions early on too. Androcles and the Lion fares worst of all though. Man, this is one of the most atypical films Criterion has ever put out, a broad physical comedy b-film from RKO with a-list actors Victor Mature and Jean Simmons in more or less supporting roles behind slapstick jokes and wishy-washy lip-servce to its stated purpose of reflective Christianity. I haven't read the source material but I find it hard to believe much of it ended up in the final product. Not a terrible movie, but a dozy programmer better served to a TCM airing at 10AM every nine months, not boutique label treatment!

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Re: Eclipse Series 20: George Bernard Shaw on Film

#31 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Aug 14, 2015 3:20 pm

The main value of Androcles and the Lion is its lengthy (and interesting preface) -- which is probably about ten times longer than the play (in word count). (There are a number of entertaining moments in the play, however).

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Re: Eclipse Series 20: George Bernard Shaw on Film

#32 Post by movielocke » Wed Sep 09, 2015 7:33 pm

Major Barbara is not very good. Yes, the film is stagey, not an excessive concern, in my opinion, it can be a pain but it's also common in films of this vintage. The problem is that the plot and motivations and even the politics are inconsistent, incoherent and often incredibly muddled. The film opens on a man, because sexism, who is giving some garbled street performance on greek something or other. Everyone abandons his lunatic ravings to go see the superior street theatre of the Salvation Army. The local cop kindly leads the professor over to listen as well, Major Barbara is giving a speech about saving souls, and the fellow raises his hand.

She takes him away, and he professes he's a greek professor and an agnostic of sorts with no sincere interest in being saved, but he fell in love with her, for some reason she decides to take him home. On the doorstep they finally ask each others' names. She's the daughter of a millionaire and he's Australian.

Cut to some months later, they're engaged and the family is together. Cut to the mother making a rambly speech to her son about the siblings absent father. The son says he is all morally indigant that their father manufactors munitions and is shocked to find out that is the source of the family's mother. The mother reveals that the father has lived apart from them because he is immoral and celebrates his immorality (not sure if that is supposed to mean he's gay or just has a mistress). There are also some bizarre lines about their father being adopted and somesuch I didn't really follow.

So they all get together, the major, the professor, the uptight brother, the righteous mother and also the idiot brother-in-law-to-be and his similarly intellectually weak fiancee, the major's sister. Then the father shows up, he's bearded, befuddled, comical and professes to be slowly losing his memory. The mother is trying to make amends or sort out inheritance and she wants to pray first but the father leaves professing moral objection to praying, and the rest of the family follows. The major invites her father to see their work at the salvation army.

Whew, that is entirely too much plot summary for ten minutes of film. but none of it matters too much until the end because there's a rather excellent flowing middle section all about the salvation army that is funny, sharp, and damned entertaining throughout the entire time the film spends here. it's rather like a religious riff on The Lower Depths at times and is when the film is completely at its best.

Then the film descends into family bickering about inheritence, adoption etc again for the final half hour which is about as comprehensible and thrilling as the deadly dull plot summary mentioned above. But it does end with a lovely montage by David Lean that presages the opening montage of In Which We Serve before launching into an odd propaganda message that I'm not sure what it was other than jobs making bullets is god's work, I think.

One of the oddest things about the film, though, is that the father is clearly established as comicly out of touch, clearly losing his memory, eccentric-verging-on-senile then the whole rest of the film he's sharp as a tack nothing remotely like the first scene.

Not a thrilling start to this set, but it's better than any of the Sabu! films.

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Re: Eclipse Series 20: George Bernard Shaw on Film

#33 Post by movielocke » Fri Sep 11, 2015 4:22 pm

Caesar and Cleopatra is not great, but it's fabulous dialogue and superb performance from Claude Rains make it superior to almost all of the big biblical/roman spectacles Hollywood did in the 1950s. The two points of comparison that immediately rose to mind, for me, are Ten Commandments and Cleopatra, Vivien Leigh plays the role very much in the same high dudgeon style Elizabeth Taylor also utilized, although, bizarrely, we are supposed to believe Leigh is a child of 12-15 (the film is not very specific).

But that does not matter too much as Claude Rains' monstrously good performance overshadows everything, which in itself is very impressive considering the absurdly lavish production design and costuming work on the film, it feels a decade ahead of it's time (or at least half a decade ahead of Quo Vadis). On the other hand, in spite of how great his performance is, the writing of Caesar as a warrior pacifist is odd to say the least--Caesar seems to have a very "enlightened" Neville Chamberlain approach to politics and people, however, the film/script saves this by having every person around Caesar tell him what an idiot he is for possessing such an abhorance of violence. As such, for all that it is bizarre characterization, it functions more as sloppy foreshadowing of 'et tu brute' so I suppose it is somewhat forgiveable.

The brash and loud performances comprising the rest of the film are what they are, exactly what one expects from the sorts of movies already mentioned. It looks fine but could use a restoration to clean it up, the color balance is mostly spot on for the era, not super saturated, muted with lots of browns, but there are numerous shots that have faded and they stand out against the work that has held up better.

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Eclipse Series 20: George Bernard Shaw on Film

#34 Post by movielocke » Mon Dec 14, 2015 2:59 am

Somehow I did not post about Androcles and the Lion, that seems... Appropriate.

The film starts off poorly and somehow becomes more bad as time goes on. It's silly and earnest and that's an interesting approach to combine rubber-faced-mugging, sitcom-wife-nagging-and-shrieking, and "geez-its-a-lion-run-Pumbaa"-scenes in a seemingly sincere message about Christianity. I suppose it's the spoonful of sugar approach? Unfortunately, for that approach to be successful, the aforementioned "funny" parts have to be good, and they are simply awful--which ultimately undermines the attempt at a message.

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Re: Eclipse Series 20: George Bernard Shaw on Film

#35 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Dec 14, 2015 3:53 pm

I enjoyed _reading_ Androcles and the Lion well enough (the much, much longer preface is more interesting, however).

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