Henry V – Shakespeare Week

One of my favorite plays this past outdoor season was The Merry Wives of Windsor. The Merry Wives was written in part because Sir John Falstaff had proven to be a very popular character in the histories. Naturally I chose to go back to one of those histories.

Henry V is currently available on instant Netflix.

Henry V (1989) – Rated PG-13

“Making his directing debut, Kenneth Branagh does William Shakespeare’s play proud in this epic screen adaptation that follows headstrong King Henry V as he leads a heavily outnumbered army into a territorial war against France.”

“And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by from this day until the ending of the world but we in it shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, For he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother, Be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition, and gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whilst any speaks, that fought with us upon St. Crispin’s day! “

Above is just a part of the rousing St. Crispian speech. As with any of Shakespeare’s plays, I could go on putting quote after quote. The bard’s facility with language is enviable. Laurence Olivier filmed a wonderful version of Henry V back in 1948 but I daresay that this Kenneth Branagh version is the definitive work.

Derek Jacobi is brilliant as the Chorus and does a wonderful job setting the stage. Branagh has Jacobi flex back and forth from a modern performance of the play to the actual time period. Where such transitions would be problematic, Jacobi is only heard in voiceover.

Kenneth Branagh’s performance as Henry V is electric. He knows exactly when to emphasize and when to underplay lines. Branagh is a man who lives and breathes Shakespeare. His St. Crispian speech is quite rousing.

Everyone else’s performance is spot on. Brian Blessed gives a very nuanced performance as Exeter, not something he is known for. Robbie Coltrane is excellent in his all-too-brief role of Falstaff. Judi Dench makes a great Nell and Emma Thompson has two scenes as Princess Katherine.

The only quibble I have with the film are the battle sequences. Probably due to finances but also because of the nature of plays, the battle scenes are of a much smaller scale than was historically the case. The slaughter of the French by the English longbow (over 3/4 of Henry’s army were longbowmen) is not really given attention here. Then again the sheer will of Henry and his ability to inspire is part of the theme of the play.

Oh wait I have one more quibble. After so thoroughly enjoying Falstaff, Pistol, Corporal Nym, and Bardolph in Merry Wives, I was disheartened to see how few survive Henry V.

People Watch: We missed him entirely but we noticed in the end credits that Christian Bale played Robin the luggage boy.

The Odessa File – Nazis Gone Wild! week

Mostly as an excuse so I can review a film I have waited a year to see (no not this one), this is Nazis Gone Wild! week. We will be featuring Nazis not in their usual setting – mainly post-World War II. The Odessa File is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Odessa File

PASS: The Odessa File (1974) – Rated PG.

“After finding the diary of a Holocaust survivor who had recently committed suicide, journalist Peter Miller (Jon Voight) begins following the trail of an SS officer who commanded a concentration camp during World War II. Miller soon finds himself involved with an organization of former SS members called Odessa as well as with the Israeli secret service. Further probing reveals a link between the officer, Odessa and Millers own family.”

“You are a parasite. You live off other peoples troubles.”

Director Ronald Neame and writers Kenneth Ross & George Markstein do a good job of squeezing as much of The Odessa File book plot as possible into the movie. This should please readers of the book.

Unfortunately if you have not read the book, many portions are just touched upon and dropped. The film opens with worries about Weapons of Mass Destruction being used on Israel. This subplot consists of one scene in the beginning, a brief mention in the middle, and a brief mention at the end and could easily have been jettisoned. It has almost nothing to do with the rest of the film.

The bulk of the film is the hunt for Eduard Roschmann that is undertaken by Miller. Eduard Roschmann is played by second-billed Maximilian Schell who is only briefly in the film. The vast bulk of the film is carried by Jon Voight as Miller and he does a very good job here.

Sadly that does not translate into a good movie. There are the all-too-common plotholes. Many of the ODESSA operatives know Miller by sight so that makes him the ideal candidate to go undercover. What?!?

It is quite clear that at least some of the authorities are in collusion with (or are members of) ODESSA so at an absolutely crucial moment of secrecy, I will call my girlfriend and tell her where I am. What?!?

Interestingly Eduard Roschmann, The Butcher of Riga, was not only real but was in hiding in Argentina at the time this film came out. Within the next few years, possibly due to publicity from the book and movie, he faced extradition and was forced to flee to Paraguay. He turned up dead there on August 8, 1977, presumably murdered though Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal was doubtful that it was him.

Netflix presents this movie in HD for those of you with the appropriate equipment.

I am afraid that I have to give this movie a pass. There is nothing overtly wrong with it – the acting is fine if unexceptional, the script is fine apart from a few huge plotholes, direction is fine but uninvolved.

The movie just seems flat – as if it has to hit certain plot points from the novel and string them into a whole. It is very reminiscent of the last Forsyth adaptation I reviewed, The Fourth Protocol.

People Watch: The always wonderful Derek (I, Claudius) Jacobi plays Klaus Wenzer.

The Medusa Touch

Here’s a nice one that sadly is only available until November 1st.

The Medusa Touch

WATCH: The Medusa Touch (1978) – “John Morlar (Richard Burton) is a writer with an inconvenient talent: the ability to see disasters before they happen. So when he’s attacked by an unknown assailant, a Scotland Yard investigator (Lino Ventura) can’t help but wonder whether he saw it coming. With John languishing in a coma, it’s impossible to ask him any questions. But his psychiatrist (Lee Remick) could shed much-needed light on John’s troubled past.”

Outdoor scenes not withstanding, this really comes off as a well-acted stage play. Richard Burton is wonderful and adds a certain gravitas to his role and Lino Ventura and Lee Remick play well singly and off each other but it is definitely Burton’s show. The premise is nifty and was likely greenlit right after the success of Carrie. There are only a few, though effective, scenes of violence and no sex which is part of why this seems like a stage play. Unfortunately not only is this film only available until the 1st of November but it has never been released on DVD in the US.

People watchers: look for the always wonderful Derek Jacobi in a small part.