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PostPosted: Fri Feb 13, 2009 8:50 pm 
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ECLIPSE SERIES 16: ALEXANDER KORDA'S PRIVATE LIVES

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Though born to modest means in Hungary, Alexander Korda would go on to become one of the most important filmmakers in the history of British cinema. A producer, writer, and director who navigated toward subjects of major historical significance and mythical distinction, Korda made a name for his production company, London Films, with the Oscar-winning The Private Life of Henry VIII. He then continued his populist investigation behind the scenes and in the bedrooms of such figures as Catherine the Great, Don Juan, and Rembrandt. Mixing stately period drama with surprising satire, these films are exemplars of grand 1930s moviemaking.

The Private Life of Henry VIII

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Charles Laughton gulps beer and chomps on mutton, in his first of many iconic screen roles, as King Henry VIII, the ultimate anti-husband. Alexander Korda’s first major international success is a raucous, entertaining, even poignant peek into the boudoirs of the infamous king and his six wives.

The Rise of Catherine the Great

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A quick-witted and compelling dramatization of the troubled marriage of Catherine II (played by German actress Elisabeth Bergner, in her English-language debut) to Peter III (a randy Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) and her subsequent ascension to the throne as Empress of Russia. With its luxurious renderings of the eighteenth-century St. Petersburg royal court and its nearly screwball evocation of Catherine and Peter’s teasing relationship, The Rise of Catherine the Great was a wise and worthy follow-up to Henry VIII.

The Private Life of Don Juan

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Douglas Fairbanks Sr. makes his big-screen swan song with Korda’s deliciously satiric deflation of the Don Juan myth. After having faked his own death and escaped Seville, the aging lothario returns, only to find that he has been promptly forgotten; perhaps Merle Oberon’s raven-haired beauty can coax him back into business. Don Juan was a rare “talkie” for Fairbanks, and a shrewd poking at the actor’s own persona.

Rembrandt

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Charles Laughton once again teams up with Korda for this moving, elegantly shot biopic about the Dutch painter. Beginning when Rembrandt’s reputation was at its height, the film then tracks his quiet descent into loneliness and isolated self-expression, following the death of his wife to the unveiling of Night Watch to the ecclesiastical excommunication of his late-in-life lover and maid, Hendrickje Stoffels (played by Laughton’s wife, Elsa Lanchester). Though black and white, Rembrandt is shot by cinematographer Georges Périnal (Le million, The Fallen Idol) with an attention to light that’s particularly Rembrandtesque.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 13, 2009 10:53 pm 
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I imagine that the Korda's films aren't too similar to Rossellini's, but nevertheless, this Eclipse set looks like an interesting companion piece with both Rossellini's history films and Flicker Alley's Fairbanks collection. I wonder if Criterion is catering to the dvd aficionados on this forum?

So, um, for anybody who's watched them, how are they?


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 13, 2009 10:56 pm 
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I saw Henry VIII 30-plus years ago on a fledgling cable network named HBO. Laughton's scenery chewing is fun, but that's about all I remember.


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 12:37 am 
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The Private Life of Don Juan is a very good film and probably my most anticipated title in this.

Glad I held off the impulse to buy that expensive Korda set from Spain.


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 12:43 am 
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Watching Henry VIII will also put you one closer for the Alternative Oscars List Project


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 1:09 am 
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The Private Life of Henry VIII pops up from time to time on TCM (next: March 5/6, 1:30am EST). It's a reasonably fun picture, and Elsa Lanchester is terrific as Anne of Cleves, but I wouldn't say it's high on my DVD wish list.


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 5:15 am 
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Rembrandt is a wonderful film, absolutely essential viewing. The art direction, needless to say, is gorgeous, and less flamboyant than in the more famous Korda productions. Something similar could be said about Laughton in this film, and many consider it to be his best performance. Certainly, it makes a nice change from his thunderous turn as Henry VIII: called upon to convey a very different sort of greatness, he does so with breathtaking subtlety, pathos, and an unusually light comic touch. Thanks to Laughton’s ability to combine all these different registers, the final scene of the film is incredibly moving.

One of the great biopics – and it seems already to be available in two editions... Can anyone comment on them (I still only have the VHS)? Presumably Criterion can improve on picture quality, but this and Henry VIII (which I don't much like, but it's a real landmark of British cinema) seem to cry out for extra features.


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 7:36 am 
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I agree about "Rembrandt". It is an early example of those kinds of films that actually try to recreate an impression of the light and general pictorial qualities that a particular painter or group of painters in a specific time used (another example from roughly the same period would be Feyder's "Kermesse heroique", and much later of course Jarman's "Caravaggio" or Greenaway's "ZOO"). Fantastic acting by Laughton, too. An enchanting film, and good to see it's released from Public Domain hell now. Why they Eclipsed it, is somewhat beyond me, though.

"Catherine the Great", on the other hand, is truly awful. Elisabeth Bergner, who was cute and convincing in a silent like "Fräulein Else", probably only got the job to play Catherine because her husband Paul Czinner was directing (in other words, to the best of my knowledge, this was only produced by Korda, and not directed by him). She simply can't speak, delivers a dry performance, and the film itself is as stiff and wooden as you could possibly imagine. Sets are nice, but the film as a whole is clearly forgettable.


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 1:59 pm 
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Tommaso wrote:
"Catherine the Great", on the other hand, is truly awful. Elisabeth Bergner, who was cute and convincing in a silent like "Fräulein Else", probably only got the job to play Catherine because her husband Paul Czinner was directing (in other words, to the best of my knowledge, this was only produced by Korda, and not directed by him). She simply can't speak, delivers a dry performance, and the film itself is as stiff and wooden as you could possibly imagine. Sets are nice, but the film as a whole is clearly forgettable.

Yes Tom. I would dearly love to drop Catherine out of this and replace it with the Korda-directed That Hamilton Woman. I had felt confident that that title was one of their Korda acquisitions, but now I'm not so sure - it would have fit the theme of the box quite nicely.


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 2:29 pm 
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Tommaso wrote:
"Catherine the Great", on the other hand, is truly awful. Elisabeth Bergner, who was cute and convincing in a silent like "Fräulein Else", probably only got the job to play Catherine because her husband Paul Czinner was directing (in other words, to the best of my knowledge, this was only produced by Korda, and not directed by him). She simply can't speak, delivers a dry performance, and the film itself is as stiff and wooden as you could possibly imagine. Sets are nice, but the film as a whole is clearly forgettable.

I almost fell outa my chair. I was just about to post a question regarding this film, because, after seeing As You Like It-- also directed by her hubby Paul Czinner (which also features an unbelievably young Olivier)-- I'm very leery of any film featuring this young lady speaking in English.

She absolutely destROYED As You Like It with her hideous vocal mannerisms, and accent, which, along with her hammy mucking and bossy quality with the other actors (she knew she had it made because of hubby) implodes every scene that she's in and makes you wanta drive a red hot soldering iron into the brain, listen for bubbling & popping sounds, then work it around to destroy a little extra brain matter as she goes on talking. Her working in he English language MUST be the true cause for the conflict between Germany and the west thru the 40's. The invasion-fascism stuff was absolutely intolerably criminally rotten but this here is just one step too much to bear on top of it all. She may be a lilting rose petal in Deutschen, but in english she like a thumbtackburger betwen the teeth. I can't recall a film where a single female actress caused me to turn to someone watching along with me so many times with dropped jaw and wide eyes... and the sad part is Czinner was an otherwise good director (Elsie is indeed very nice, great late silent era work by Freund too), and the rest of the film without her presence is quie functional.


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 4:33 pm 
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I haven't seen "As you like it", but here it's not so much Bergner's accent that's inacceptable (though perhaps I don't notice it as much as you), but it's the whole completely monotonous delivery, like she's post-synching this from a sheet she's never seen before. But there are scenes in which she does not appear, of course, and these are equally wooden. Lame dialogue, absolutely uninspired acting all around (though of the 'representative', solid kind), and grandiose sets with which Czinner does not know to do anything. Unbelievably, this was made in the same year as "The Scarlet Empress" and seems to have been more successful, too.


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 7:57 pm 

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I haven't seen the other two, but HENRY VIII and DON JUAN are both great fun, if not great cinema. As a major 30s movie buff, I'll eagerly snap this up. As a matter of fact, I went looking to rent HENRY VIII a few months ago, and only then realized it wasn't already available.


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 18, 2009 9:24 am 
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I entirely agree with HerrSchreck about As You Like It, a film that would have been infinitely better with almost anyone else in the lead - by 1930s sound Shakespeare standards, it's otherwise fine. If you look at poor Laurence Olivier's body language, it's clear that he's acutely aware that there's no chemistry whatsoever between him and Bergner, but there's nothing he can do about it for exactly the same reason that William Goldman couldn't complain about Nanette Newman's miscasting in her husband's The Stepford Wives.

Anyway, Screenonline has a lot of coverage of 1930s Korda - here are the entries on The Private Life of Henry VIII, The Rise of Catherine the Great and Rembrandt, plus an overview of Korda's career at London Films. The usual advance apologies for the fact that most of you won't be able to view the attached clips.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 19, 2009 11:12 am 

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These films are all great.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 19, 2009 11:53 am 

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>>Nanette Newman's miscasting in her husband's The Stepford Wives.<<
Newman is in all of Bryan Forbes films & she reeks in nearly all of them (I do like her in THE WRONG BOX). Was Forbes incapable of putting her in the right role or was she just bloody awful?

I'm looking forward to the Korda set as I've never seen REMBRANDT, and only saw the others years and years ago. I recall Doug, Jr. being the most interesting part of CATHERINE; the film certainly didn't explain to me why Bergner was considered one of the great actresses of her time. If I recall correctly, the prints of HENRY and DON JUAN were not great, so it'll be nice to see them at Criterion quality.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 19, 2009 12:12 pm 
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MichaelB wrote:
I entirely agree with HerrSchreck about As You Like It, a film that would have been infinitely better with almost anyone else in the lead - by 1930s sound Shakespeare standards, it's otherwise fine. If you look at poor Laurence Olivier's body language, it's clear that he's acutely aware that there's no chemistry whatsoever between him and Bergner, but there's nothing he can do about it for exactly the same reason that William Goldman couldn't complain about Nanette Newman's miscasting in her husband's The Stepford Wives.

It's pretty poignant. It's really not a bad film in every other sense-- the setups, the lighting, the performances of the rest of the cast.. the script as I remember wasn't perhaps The Masterful Shakespeare Film Adaption-- but she detonates every scene she walks into straight into the septic pit. I'm reminded of Coppola directing teenaged Sophia in Godfather III. Always dangerous ground, the casting of your dearest love ones in superimportant parts in wide-release, much reviewed films. Korda was a pretty shrewd guy-- I'm surprised that, if the Bergener performance is anything like her turn in As You.., he sat through those rushes and allowed the project to move forward with her in such a key part. At the same time, Catherine seems to be the first film work she did in the English language.. so he at least has the excuse of not having anyhing to go on but some pretty well-done German films (Czinner/Mayer's Dreaming Lips, Fraulein Elsie).


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 19, 2009 5:17 pm 
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Schreck, Bergner is a total dog, but just as bad hubby's filimic style is to shoot totally frontal with a permanently imagined proscenium. Awful, awful picture making. Czinner is probably best remembered these days for some post war Opera movies including the (both) musically distinguished Don Giovanni at Salzburg 1955 under Furtwangler and Karajan's great Der Rosenkavalier in 1957 (studio shot).

Isn't it galling to know this picture made money but Scarlet Empress got the Von sacked from Paramount for losing too much dough (and pinching Lube's crowd scene footage.)

Speaking of the Von I am really disappointed Eclipse didn't think to include the old BBC doco Epic that Never was in which the 20 odd minutes of edited rushes from Cluadius glow with the genius of Stenrberg, in very sharp contrast to the Korda directed plodders.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 20, 2009 7:36 am 
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david hare wrote:
hubby's filimic style is to shoot totally frontal with a permanently imagined proscenium. Awful, awful picture making.

Indeed this is the main problem with "Catherine", and the reason why this film would have been a failure even if another actress had played the title role. I wonder whether this theatricality/stageyness was employed to make the film 'respectable' and thus reach an audience not normally going to the cinemas? It's not as apparent in "Rembrandt", but the air of 'we're showing you a great artist and we're doing it in a respectful, educated and educating way" is in it, too. It all feels like Korda is trying to make a name for himself as the producer of 'quality films', quite opposed to the 'outrages' of pre-code Hollywood even before the code was set up.

In many ways "Catherine" reminds me of Lubitsch's equally 'solid' and 'respectable', and equally boring "Anna Boleyn". But in 1920 such proscenium shooting would have been far more common, of course (and though I regard "Anna" as a failure, Lubitsch is still a much more imaginative filmmaker there than Czinner).


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 20, 2009 9:08 am 
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That's interesting, your comment about Lubitsch's Boleyn-- it's actually one of my favorite Lubitsch's... certainly up there among my favorites by him out of the silent era (his comedies are hit or miss with me, where I tend to like them broken down into sections.. i e some almost absurdly Surreal moments in The Oyster Princess-- i e the exaggerations w the negro aides, the baseball bat sized cigar, foxtrot frnezy, etc), and I think it tends to work very well as a period piece. Maybe I'll give it another look today just to refresh my memory.. perhaps it'll register different. Henny Porten is hit or miss for me also... although her performance in Jessner's haunting Hintertreppe always impresses me in it's correspondence with the sensibility of Mayer's avant script and the extremely strange overall narrative rendering. I know the Porten thing is an entirely unrelated point here, aside from the fact that she Plays Boleyn; but this reminds me of something I've been meaning to mention here which concerns her-- .

Have you noticed Tom-- or has anyone noticed for that matter-- how much Janet Gaynor's face, on the Sunrise poster for the German release of the film, is painted to resemble Henny Porten's? (Obviously, you probably know at least Tom, that she at the time was one of Germany's most beloved female stars.. certainly one of the few from the silent era to achieve icon status.. which may have something to do with the artist rendering Gaynor's face with a Porten-esque bias)? Check it out--

EDIT: whoops it won't let me hotlink. Check it here.

Of course it could be entirely accidental. But it strikes me as a little bit too obvious.

While searching the web to try and the above copy of it I came up with this poster which I don't believe is in the Fox box, and is pretty cool.

Re Bergner: Dave-- yeah she is a total dog.. and as for Czinner he's not (at leas in my view) the total disasterwhen it comes to mise en scene you describe. I haven't seen enough of his sound or silent works to make really informed assessment, but if you check out the gorgeous Fraulein Elsie you'll see a very good film there, from all angles. Since its silent there's no misery of being subjected to the sound of her voice. Freund's photography is a beaut too. Buzz "nephew".. he was impressed with the film and sent me a copy; he'll send it to you.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 20, 2009 10:46 am 
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Well, I agree with you about the hit or miss character of Lube's early comedies, as far as I've seen them. "The merry jail" does little for me, and the same goes for "Sumurun" or "The Wildcat" (despite of the sets and the framings), while "I don't want to be a man" and the divine "Oyster Princess" still give me the giggles after many viewings. However, even the weaker comedies work much, much better for me than "Boleyn" and "Dubarry", and although I find the latter to be the better film, both share a tendency toward a certain kind of 'quality cinema', a lack of 'wit' and inventiveness that I find surprising in Lubitsch. Sure, both are very expertly filmed, nice sets, great acting et al. But I don't know: I just don't find them very engaging, especially "Boleyn". Far too long, far too 'stately'. I find Porten quite convincing in the film, though. If you don't, wait till you see Bergner in "Catherine"...

HerrSchreck wrote:
(Obviously, you probably know at least Tom, that she at the time was one of Germany's most beloved female stars.. certainly one of the few from the silent era to achieve icon status.. which may have something to do with the artist rendering Gaynor's face with a Porten-esque bias)?

You may have a point there, Schreck, especially if you look at this picture of Porten. But I don't know whether Porten was really well known in the US. Or do you think that Gaynor's style in "Sunrise" (not just on the posters) was intentionally designed to cater to German audiences (with Murnau directing being another attraction)? In any case I find it surprising how different Gaynor can look, now that I've seen her in Borzage's films.
HerrSchreck wrote:
but if you check out the gorgeous Fraulein Elsie you'll see a very good film there, from all angles. Since its silent there's no misery of being subjected to the sound of her voice. Freund's photography is a beaut too..

Absolutely, that is the reason why I was almost shocked when I saw "Catherine". "Fräulein Else" may not be the most inventive of all silents, but it has a certain visual imagination, a fluidity in the storytelling, and yes, even good acting by Bergner, all of which are totally absent in this Korda film. As these are the only two Czinners I've seen, I also cannot comment on his general achivements as a director, but I have the nagging feeling that much of what is good in "Else" must be credited to Freund's influence in the first place. That he knew about directing is evidenced by his own later films as a director, and perhaps he was helpful for Czinner in other aspects than photography only. Pure speculation, of course.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 20, 2009 12:17 pm 
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What a coincidence that Czinner is discussed for the first (?) time on this forum as I got 3-4 of his silents only a week ago. Will report back later.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 20, 2009 1:06 pm 
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So Tom what do you think of the overall experience of Catherine.. i e especially those parts that Bergner isn't in? I ask because in the case of As You like It, Czinner's direction and visual sense (and the quality of the performances of the rest of the actors-- not to mention the above-mentioned Very Young Olivier-- as well as the quality of the script itself, which aren't anywhere the zone of Bergner's performance viz Unbearability!) kept me hanging on to the very end of the film. Another director placing the cinematic context into which this performance by Bergner was effected and I probably would have shut the fim off after the first few minutes of her performance.

re whether or not Porten was popular (or knon in general) in the USA:

What I mean is that, strictly to rustle up an audience for this film in Germany, they created a likeness of Porten in the German poster-- only in the German poster... maybe Porten fans would have their attention caught by the image of what looked like porten. That painting doesn't seem to pop up for any other market's poster.

As far as Gaynor is concerned, she was a nobody even in the US at this time (at least in leading roles, for which I believe 7th Heaven & Sunrise were her first), so she couldn't be considered a draw in any market. And Fox did spend a whole bank-vault on production for this film, so I'm sure they wanted to drum up interest by any means they could, even if it mean little silly lies of false implication. Perhaps?

Just a loose, half-improvised semi-theory.

Re Gaynor's style in the film, and whether or not it was designed to cater to German audiences: I doubt it. The US was the primary market and the only place where the lion's share of all that huge budget was likely going to be recouped. Of all Murnau's films, as far as the acting style in SUnrise-- I see the most similarity between this film and Phantom. That slow, melodic tempo, drawn out i that expressive Germanic style.. there's even a touch of an echo (yadda! not just a touch and not just an echo.. but a touch of an echo!) of the stylized gestures of Expressionist performances in there (that Americans & Brits apparently tended to find "slow). But I don't think this is to draw a German audience to the film; I think it's this way simply because it was Murnau's style. He seems most liberated of it in City Girl, which in many ways is his most modern film (certainly performance-wise, it's airy and refreshing).


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 20, 2009 2:00 pm 
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HerrSchreck wrote:
So Tom what do you think of the overall experience of Catherine

I agree completely with David about the film: awful, awful filmmaking. The overall experience was that I was happy when it was over. I'm probably not the most enamored viewer of history flicks in general (in the sense that the story/plot itself does not attract me as such), but with a little bit of visual imagination I have no problems with the genre. But everything that makes me rave about "Scarlet Empress" or even (I have to confess it) "Queen Christina" is missing here. It's static, unsexy, uninspired, theatrical, and nevertheless it looks expensive (the worst combination in my view). As I said, I haven't seen "As you like it", and I heard several people say good things about it, so perhaps "Catherine" is just an exception. But for me, this film doesn't work at all. The parts with Bergner are the worst, of course, but the rest is pretty atrocious, too.

HerrSchreck wrote:
What I mean is that, strictly to rustle up an audience for this film in Germany, they created a likeness of Porten in the German poster-- only in the German poster... maybe Porten fans would have their attention caught by the image of what looked like porten. That painting doesn't seem to pop up for any other market's poster.

That is true, but of course the general appearance of Gaynor in the advertising materials and (to a lesser degree) in the film itself supports the theory of a Porten influence. But who knows, perhaps it was MURNAU who wanted her to look that way?

HerrSchreck wrote:
The US was the primary market and the only place where the lion's share of all that huge budget was likely going to be recouped. Of all Murnau's films, as far as the acting style in SUnrise-- I see the most similarity between this film and Phantom.

Yes to both. The 'quiet suffering' in both Dagover's and Gaynor's role as well as their 'angelic' quality is certainly a similarity, especially considering that Murnau had rather different female types in most of his other films.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 25, 2009 7:34 pm 
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 25, 2009 7:58 pm 
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le Beev wrote:
To be totally honest I wasn't particularly in the mood to watch these and labored through the middle two.

but!

le Beev wrote:
I should note that I was very impressed with Elisabeth Bergner as Catherine the Great.


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