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Alexander the Great by Richard Burton

Alexander the Great (edition 2004)

by Richard Burton (Actor)

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The story of Alexander the Great, Greek hero and world-conqueror. Alexander is a man torn by conflict between his teacher, Aristotle, his warrior father and his own ambition.
Title:Alexander the Great
Authors:Richard Burton (Actor)
Info:MGM (Video & DVD) (2004)
Collections:Your library

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Alexander the Great [1956 film] by Robert Rossen


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Alexander the Great (1956)

Richard Burton – Alexander
Fredric March – Philip

Claire Bloom – Barsine
Danielle Darrieux – Olympia
Barry Jones – Aristotle
Niall MacGinnis – Parmenio
Peter Cushing – Memnon
Michael Hordern – Demosthenes
Harry Andrews – Darius
Stanley Baker – Attalus
Marisa de Leza – Eurydice
Gustavo Rojo – Cleitus
Ruben Rojo – Philotas
Teresa del Rio – Roxane

Written and directed by Robert Rossen

Colour. 130 min.


In a nutshell, the script has its problems, but they are redeemed by an excellent cast. This is not the greatest movie ever made, but neither does it deserve its obscurity and, when it is noticed at all, the scathing reviews.

The story plays pretty fast and pretty loose with the historical facts, such as they are, such as we know them at least. Roxane as a daughter of Darius is enough to send the history nuts into a paroxysm of laughter or shouting, depending on their mood and temperament. I’m not like that. Poetic licence is fine with me so long as the essence, or the spirit, or call it what you like, doesn’t suffer. This is the case here. Much of Alexander’s volatile personality, with its divine delusions, idealistic pretentions and ruthless egotism, is captured well. The main events of his short but hectic life are retained.

The script tells a good story with solid characters and plenty of fine dialogue. It is not an epic, as often described by superficial reviewers, but rather an intimate look at Alexander and the most important relationships in his life, most notably those with his father and mother, to a lesser extent also with Aristotle, Cleitus, Memnon, Barsine. I guess that’s why many viewers, to judge from reviews, found it boring. They expected an epic, an eye-candy to relax their brilliant minds from the strain of contemplating the origins of the universe. Instead, they got plot and characters that require attention, mental effort and even some emotional investment.

The flaws of the screenplay are its fragmentary nature, its unsteady pace, and an occasional overdose of melodrama. Nothing really terrible once the misguided desire for “historical accuracy” is discarded. But, like I said, the cast is the thing.

The still youngish, blond, blue-eyed and impossibly beautiful Richard Burton captures more than a little – certainly more than Colin Farrell – of the devastating charisma and natural authority that Alexander must have had. They are heavily stained with madness and megalomania. These traits Burton captures even better. He is totally compelling from start to finish. On the whole, he is an Alexander who fits nicely Aristotle’s description to Philip:

Farewell – and take these words with you and use them for what they are worth: Alexander is many things. He is logic, and he is dreams. He is warrior, and he is poet. He is man, and he is spirit. He is your son, but he’s also hers... and he believes himself to be a god.

But Burton, like everyone else, is overshadowed by Fredric March as a handsome, two-eyed and altogether mesmerising Philip, a man even more completely made of contradictions than his son. “What’s an arm or a leg or an eye for the sake of glory?”, he confides casually to Alexander. Indeed! “Too much to drink”, he mumbles on another occasion, having just regaled the Greek landscape with his stentorian voice. I have yet to see a poor performance by Fredric March, be it a dashing French pirate (The Buccaneer, 1934) or a sex-starved middle-aged man (Middle of the Night, 1959), but this kingly role is definitely one of his greatest achievements. The scenes with Burton are terrific.

The rest is supporting cast, including Claire Bloom and despite her star billing alongside Burton and March. She does well with the little material at her disposal. Danielle Darrieux is a sly, subtle and seductive Olympia, almost awakening Alexander’s Oedipal feelings and certainly provoking Pausanius to do what he did. Peter Cushing is a memorable Memnon; note especially his scene with the Persian king. Gustavo Rojo is a fine Cleitus finely rising to his single occasion of dramatic importance. Harry Andrews as Darius is a casting choice hard to keep a straight face about, but he pulls off a surprisingly serious performance.

Last and least, the movie is pleasant to look at. The colours are vivid and obviously little expense was spared on sets and costumes. No doubt historians would find as many faults with the production design as with the script, but common mortals would probably enjoy both. The battle scenes are unrealistic and perfunctory – and that’s just fine with me. I am tired of the modern obsession with blood and gore in historical epics. The only time I couldn’t help smiling was at Alexander’s first appearance, casually wearing on his shoulder a presumably dead cougar but obviously only a stuffed toy.

If you’re looking for an epic spectacle, this is not your movie. If you are looking for a documentary about Alexander’s life, this is definitely not your movie. But if you’re looking for an entertaining and not entirely unprofitable way to spend two hours, then do have a look at this movie. Robert Rossen is not a very good director, but he is a better screenwriter and very, very lucky with his cast. ( )
  Waldstein | Mar 16, 2018 |
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  lrc.valpo | Apr 5, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rossen, Robertprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bloom, Clairesecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Burton, Richardsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
March, Fredricsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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