Tag Archives: Anthony Quinn

A muted thriller from Fred Zinnemann

Like Joseph L. Manckewicz, Fred Zinnemann was a director of films of more-than-ordinary intelligence with fine performances, who has been neglected by auteur theorists. Though neither had a consistent visual style, each met the auteur criterion of having a recognizable theme or set of themes. They also versatile writer-director Billy Wilder was also ignored by the French auteur theorists and their American epigoni like Andrew Sarris. (Sarris eventually acknowledged having been wrong about Wilder).

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The 1964 Columbia movie “Behold a Pale Horse,” based on a novel by Emeric Pressburger (who had been half ot the Archers with Michael Powell through the astonishingly dull “Ill-Met by Moonlight”) is IMHO too long (121 minutes), but strikingly photographed by Jean Badal      (best known for lensing Jacques Tati’s “Playtime”) with an exceptionally good soundtrack written by Maurice Jarre, between the ones with indelible themes he wrote for “Lawrence of Arabia” and for “Doctor Zhivago” (rhough my favorite was later, the one for the 1982 “The Year of Living Dangerously”).

One could see the movie as reuniting Omar Sharif and Anthony Quinn from “Lawrence of Arabia,” though perhaps more apt is to see it as reuniting Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn from “The Guns of Navarrone” (in which their characters intensely disliked each other). “Behold a Pale Horse” is a sort of muted thriller, but far more character-driven than Zinnemann’s “The Day of the Jackal” (1973). In this it prefigured “Julia” (1977), Zinnemann’s last hit (I’m curious about his last movie, “Five Days One Summer” (1982)).

1964 was a good year for Hollywood movies and the apogee of Anthony Quinn’s career (“Zorba the Greek”). Quinn was more restrained than usual as Captain Vinolas, the police chief of a Spanish (Basque) border tow, San Martín, that has been regularly raided in the two decades since the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939 but Manuel Artiguez (a grisly and otherwise unpleasant Gregory Peck), who lives in southern France and has never surrendered or otherwise moved on (he’s not as weary as Yves Montand in the contemporary-to-it “La guerre est finis” and far more a rebel than a disciplined revolutionary like Montand’s character).

The movie’s point of view is provided by 11-year-old Paco Dages (Marietto Angeletti) whose father was recently tortured to death by and crosses the border seeking out Artiguez whom he wants to kill his father’s murderer. It looks like Artiguez has gone soft, more interested in wine bottles than in raiding Spain and embarrassing Capt. Vinolas.

Artiguez’s mother, Pilar (played by John Ford repertory company actress Mildred Dunnock), is dying in St. Martín, She does not want to go into a hospital, but Capt. Vinolas sees an opportunity to use her as bait in a trap for his nemesis. Before she dies, Pilar asks a priest Father Francisco (Omar Sharif), who is about to go to Lourdes to tell her son to stay away.

As anti-fascists the Artiguezes, mother and son, loathe the priests who supported the fascists in overthrowing the Spanish Republic and blessed the continued torture of dissidents in Franco’s Spain. Neither Paco nor Manuel believes the priest, especially since Carlos (a jackal, though not The Jackal of Zinnemann’s later movie!— Raymond Pellegrin) has brought a message that Manuel’s mother wants to see him before she dies (a message composed by Capt. Vinolas).

Father Francisco is the most sympathetic adult character in the movie, and Manuel decides which message (and which messenger) is telling him the truth.

The title derives from the Book of Revelation 6:8: “Behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.” The verse appears before the movie (which includes some minutes of documentary footage from the Spanish Civil War and the Republican troops crossing into France, reluctantly giving up their rifles) and guarantees there will be death. My interpretation of the movie is that living is more difficult than dying, and least for aging heroes, though I also wonder how safe the road to Lourdes is going to be after “THE END” flashes across the screen. Pedro (Paolo Stoppa) will have sobered up by then…

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BTW, the portrait of Capt. Vinojas so enraged Spanish authorities at the time that not only did they ban the movie, but they banned all movies released by Columbia. (What upset the Franco censors was not that the police beat Paco’s father to death or used a hospital as a trap for a shootout, but that Capt. Vinojas was shown with a mistress and taking bribes—though his opening scene shows him saying he cannot take a gift, though implying that the price he will pay for the horse he wants will be very far below the market rate.)

The movie did not get into the long-running reign of terror by the Franco dictatorship, and I didn’t think that Capt. Vinojas was portrayed in unflattering ways… and the issues of the Republic vs. the insurgent Phalange were avoided, making the movie seem a personal feud of the aging antagonists.

 

The DVD includes a trailer for “Behold” and ones for “Lawrence of Arabia” and “The Guns of Navarrone” (the latter with voiceovers from Peck). The images did not seem too dark to me, though I wondered when it rained so that the streets and sidewalks of San Martín glistened by streetlight.

 

©2018, Stephen O. Murray

Barabbas, book and movie

I think that Barabbas, Swedish Nobel Prize-winner’s 1950 novel, was his best known work even before it was the basis for a Biblical epic movie made by Dino Di Laurentis with Anthony Quinn in rhe title role. The book begins with the freed prisoner skulking to watch the crucifixion of the man the crowd chose to be crucified, Jesus called the Christ. Barabbas recognizes one of the two thieves crucified with (besides) Jesus and is struck by the woman who is obviously the mother, filled with sorrow but not crying. The disturber of religious orthodoxy is frail. Barabbas knows he will not last long and is appalled that the Romans superintending the crucifixions offer a sponge dipped in vinegar when Jesus asks for water.

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Barabbas is terrified by the mid-day dark an earthquake that was not noticed by those who hang out in his favorite tavern. He sounds out some believers in the crucified one and is puzzled by their faith that he will be resurrected. He befriends a young believer with a harelip who gets herself stoned for preach the Christian heresy, knifes the man who cast the first stone, and later removes the girl’s body from the pit where she was killed.

It’s not clear to me in the novel how Barabbas is condemned to Roman sulfur mines from which no one emerges alive. His weaker partner (they are chained together), Sahak is a Christian, eager to hear from someone who saw the Savior. They are reassigned to pull plows like oxen, and eventually chosen by the Roman governor(‘s wife) to accompany him into retirement in Rome.

Sahak refuses to renounce his god and is crucified. Barabbas watches again. He tracks down Christians meeting in catacombs and eagerly participates in Nero’s burning of Rome. That is blamed on Christians. The nonbeliever Barabbas is the only one who takes enthusiastic part. The Apostle Peter explains to him why Christians do not make war in the name of their religion, and Barabbas is crucified with many Christians. He is the slowest to die, and, unlike Jesus has no group watching in solidarity.

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I think tat the movie made several improvements on Lagerkvist’s stripped-down prose. First, it shows Pontius Pilate giving the crowd a choice of which condemned prisoner will be release. In a spectacular sequence (which may not be an improvement) it shows Barabbas dragging Sahak (played by Vittorio Gassman) to the surface when an earthquake destroys the sulfur mine. After the same transition through field labor to being part of the retiring governor’s household in Rome, the two are cast into gladiator school. There they are particularly hated by the master (a slave who has risen to training and supervising the other gladiators), Torvald, who is played with full-throttle malice by Jack Palance. Torvald kills Sahak is killed by Torvald (after the executions throw their spears around the required target) for refusing to renounce his god, and in a scene not in the book, Barabbas and a net go against the arrogant and vicious Torvald in a chariot. This is quite an exciting action sequence in which Torvald is outsmarted and eventually dragged around behind his chariot by his frenzied horses.

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Nero frees the surprise victor, and Barabbas carries another corpse (Sahak’s) to proper burial.

Barabbas is lost in the catacombs. When he emerges the city is burning. He adds some torches and is crucified in a tableau (as in “Spartacus”). Barabbas wants to believe in the new religion that he only partly understands, but dies a martyr to the faith he would like to have, but doesn’t quite have.

Quinn as the brute intrigued by the man (regarded by Christians as the son of god) is quite good, as is Gassman as the frailer (but not frail) believer with whom Barabbas bonds during twenty year’s brutal mistreatment underground and continues to associate even after they are no longer chained together. Palance was over-the-top but appropriately so, Aldo Tonti’s color photography was notable, and there was some early electronic music in Mario Nascimbene’s score.

©2018, Stephen O. Murray

This is a part of a re-examination of one of my adolescent self’s favorite writers, which is also includes The Sibyl (my favorite) and The Dwarf. It is also an example of movie being better than source book. Losing the interior reflections of an unretrospective and unanalytic  character was more than compensated for by big spectacles, including the final crucifixion field.