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Sir Ralph Richardson

Review: A Doll’s House

[Originally published in Movietone News 28, December 1973]

The Garland–Elkins production of A Doll’s House is one of two screen adaptations of Ibsen’s play to be released this year, presumably to cash in on the women’s liberation market. Joseph Losey’s film, which will reach Seattle by way of the video screen, is an adaptation for the screen in every sense of the term. Garland’s effort, on the other hand, is more a film recording of Elkins’s Broadway production of the play, starring Elkins’s wife Claire Bloom. The exasperating thing about it is that it can’t make up its mind whether to be a filmed play or a movie. The stifling atmosphere of confinement, especially important to a play in which the seen world onstage represents a world in which the protagonist is trapped, is retained for about the first third of the film, Garland keeping all the action within the walls of Torvald Helmer’s house. Thereafter, we get exterior shots, first glimpsed through windows and finally photographed by cameras in the street. Garland yields to the temptation to cut away to Krogstad’s shabby flat, and yields again; and before the film is half over the mystery of the outside world and the sense of confinement in the inner world are both lost. Presumably the increasingly frequent glimpses of a world beyond the Helmer household are intended to move us smoothly toward Nora’s departure from her husband’s house and her entry into that outer world. But this is a violation of the play itself, on two counts. First, Nora’s break from Torvald and her children is sudden, not gradual. And second, her departure is based not upon a growing awareness of the other world but a stifling disenchantment with the inner world, which, in the play, is the only world she sees and moves in.

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Blu-ray: ‘The 300 Spartans’

Based on the true story of the tiny force of Greek warriors led by Sparta’s King Leonidas that held off the Persian invasion at the pass of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., the 1962 The 300 Spartans was Frank Miller’s inspiration to create the graphic novel 300 (which Zach Snyder subsequently adapted into a hit 2006 movie). Made toward the end of a costume epic boom, it’s a budget version of an ancient world epic, small by Hollywood standards (a cast of hundreds rather than thousands) but lavish compared to the cheap sword-and-sandal knock-offs pouring out of the Italian film industry. This was shot in Greece, appropriately enough, not Italy, but given the credit for “original story material” to a quartet of Italian screenwriters, it’s probably safe to assume this was initially developed as another Italian production before producing partners Rudolph MatĂ© (who also directs) and George St. George (screenwriter) brought it to 20th Century Fox.

The historical background is quickly sketched in via introductory crawls and stentorian narration while we watch the march of the Persian army through the ancient world. The production doesn’t have the resources to show the scope of the invasion force so instead we get shot after shot of marching columns and discussions of the enormous size of the army to get the point across. It isn’t until King Xerxes (David Farrar, sounding a lot like Ian McKellan) lets a captured Spartan spy go free (so he can spread the word of impending doom) that we get to Greece, where the heads of the free city states debate the response to the upcoming assault. Richard Egan, who was strictly second-tier leading man material but had credentials swinging swords and wearing togas in such period pieces as Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954) and Esther and the King (1960), stars as King Leonidas of Sparta, but he’s largely silent during the debate. It’s Themistocles of Athens (Sir Ralph Richardson) who dominates the scene, and for good reason. The great British actor is almost unrecognizable behind his stage beard but his voice is unmistakable and delivers his lines like tactical weapons, punctuating his points with wary glances and cagey pauses. You can believe that his silver-tongued speech and cutting asides really does sway the assembly. The stiff, stalwart Egan is really little more than a prop in his presentation, a fact that becomes evident in the next scene.

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