Thursday, November 29, 2007

Clash of the Titans

It was a long and convoluted thought process that put it into my head, but one of my favorite old Hollywood movies is Becket (1954). And it's a rare person who can even discuss this movie with me; come to think of it, I'm not sure I have ever found anyone else who has seen this movie. Maybe I'm not mentioning it at the right times.

It is a very faithful adaptation of a play by the great French playwright Jean Anouilh, which is in its turn an extravagantly unfaithful take on the historical events leading up to Thomas Becket's death and canonization. Anthony Quinn and Laurence Olivier starred in its English-language premiere; in the film, Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton light up the English countryside for miles around, helped by John Gielgud. Two of the greatest screen performances ever, as far as I'm concerned. Both were nominated for Best Actor and common talk at that time was that they split the vote and allowed Rex Harrison to sneak through for My Fair Lady.

Why hasn't it lasted? Oh, a lot of reasons: big period drama, next to no romance, very talky, very heavy on the discussions of religion, and the sheer damnable opacity of Becket's shift from Crown to Church. Not for everyone.

There are also some nice stories behind the making of the film. O'Toole and Burton apparently drank each other under the table regularly during filming, and they also supposedly switched roles right before filming started. Burton is so fantastic as the aggressive, wenching Henry VIII in Anne of a Thousand Days that you can well imagine him as a great Henry II, but O'Toole's high-strung explosiveness and raw neediness are almost painful to watch. Much as I love Burton and his legendary voice, this is probably O'Toole's show.


Chloe said...

Hi Heidi - I came here from chez Bodo to mock and then find I can't because it would be too close to home.

Having scanned your blogs, I realised that I've just finished The Eyre Affair and I'm distantly related to Hugh Jackman - so we're practically sisters! (OK the Jackman link - my husband's uncle is Godfather to Hugh J's sister. My kids therefore insist on calling him Uncle Wolfie). I think Jasper Fforde (who needs 2 F's for heaven's sake) is that kid at school who is so clever, he probably needs a good slap. Mind you, anyone who centres their time travelling fantasy book around Swindon must have a reasonable sense of humour.

I'm currently reading Dissolution by C J Sansom about a hunchback laywer in the time of religious reforms of Henry VIII - well OK it's actually a detective novel featuring murder and mayhem in a Benedictine monastery. It's quite good but a bit depressing - a high spot of the day is when the lawyer sees there are new rushes on the floor to mask the putrid smell of the surroundings. I think I'll need a bit of sex and shopping after this one.

Keep up the good work here and over at TW.

Heidi said...

thanks, Chloe! Love the six degrees of separation to the fabulously talented Uncle Wolfie. Will keep Dissolution in mind for the future.