OK I gotta finish up logging my Easter viewings finally, before another holiday is upon us
3. Sodom and Gomorrah
(Robert Aldrich, 1962)
I think this is maybe the nadir of the Hollywood Biblical epic from it's second major phase (1949-66, roughly). Not as long (154 minutes) as many of the more famous examples, but much more turgid and with a story - Lot and his attempts to coexist, as the leader of the Israelites, with the evil people of Sodom - that should/could provide much more interest than it does, but has to be so watered-down in 1962 that it's never very clear just why the people of S&G deserve to be slaughtered in nuclear annihilation (and yes, the cloud over Sodom really does look suspiciously atomic) by that greatest of all genocidal maniacs, God. As usual there's an all-star or at least also-ran cast with Stewart Granger as Lot (dull and miscast), Stanley Baker as bad guy Astaroth (best acting in the film), Anouk Aimée as the evil queen, and Italian starlets in most of the major female roles, notably Pier Angeli and Rossana Podestà. A mostly Italian production, filmed in that country and Morocco; apparently Sergio Leone did some second unit work on this but was only on the shoot very briefly.
4. The Crusades
(Cecil B. DeMille, 1935)
5. El Naser Salah el Dine / Saladin
(Youssef Chahine, 1963)
A great example of unconscious synchronicity. I knew that the DeMille film involved the Crusades (duh) and I knew that Saladin was involved in at least one Crusade - but I had no idea that the two films actually recount much of the same history, namely the Third Crusade (1189-92) in which Richard I of England AKA Richard the Lionheart led a coalition of European forces from several countries to try to take back Jerusalem from Saladin, the Ayyubid Sultan, who had captured it in 1187. It made for a great double feature actually, and there are a couple of scenes in the Chahine film that are nearly identical to those in the De Mille; Chahine was a big fan of Hollywood and I suspect knew the earlier film, and may well have made his film as a conscious retort/criticism.
I am not the world's biggest DeMille fan, and likely never will be, but I have started to have just a little grudging respect for his abilities over the past few years, particularly his mise en scene, with a notable example in this film being a really stunning fairly lengthy crane shot involving a crowd with Richard striding through it to a raised step to receive his orders as a Christian knight. And the film is full of really lovely setpieces and shots, and thankfully this was a good copy visually, though unfortunately there were some sound issues in the final third which make it a challenge to go into depth (if I wanted to at this point, which I don't). This is as much a film about Richard's romance with Berengaria of Navarre (Loretta Young) as it is about the Crusade, and the romance scenes have more charm and a bit more naturalness than usual in DeMille, so that' helps. And while we have the usual view of Muslims as savages early in the film, by the end Richard shows real respect for Saladin - and vice versa - and the film comes off as actually slightly nuanced - maybe a first for a sound film from this director.
While The Crusades
is a big-budget, largely studio-bound b/w epic very much of it's time, Chahine's film is... a big-budget, color, Cinemascope epic very much of it's time. Like the DeMille film there's a lot of time spent on a romance here, though in this case it doesn't involve the protagonist but his most loyal lieutenant, the Christian Arab Issa, who falls for a female crusader. This is a much longer film, at about 3 hours, and delves a bit more realistically into the political and moral questions of the time, i.e. can people of different religions coexist, and does a city like Jerusalem truly belong to one nation? It's got a lot of conventional military strategy scenes, battles scenes, etc, but towards the end it goes into an interesting, almost Brechtian avant-garde territory with a striking group of scenes, or maybe tableaus, showing Richard and Saladin side by side dealing with more or less the same issues (such as treachery in their own forces, doubts about God and their roles in the war, etc), and like DeMille's film - but more convincingly I think - it offers a resolution showing respect for Richard despite his being portrayed as rather barbaric at various earlier points in the film. All in all a pretty terrific film that I would put up as the equal of the best American religious-based epic of this period (Curtiz' The Egyptian
from 1954). Chahine continues to impress me enormously as a filmmaker who could match Hollywood at it's own game in any genre he chose to work in.
6. Life of Brian
(Terry Jones, 1979) (re-watch)
4th viewing or so. The scene where Brian becomes a Messianic figure by chance, all the while trying to deny it, by virtue of a dropped shoe among other trivialities, is one of the most concise depictions of mob mentality - and it's relationship with or domination of religious, cultish, or political "thinking" - that's ever been committed to film. That and a dozen other scenes and an overall cohesiveness mark this as - and Terry Gilliam admits as much during the commentary - the Python's best-realized film, even if I still think Holy Grail
is funnier. But there are few scenes in that film that make me laugh any louder than this