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Monday, August 15, 2016
While not quite the epic you might expect from the title, THE PRIDE AND THE PASSION (1957) is a good example of how a great director's lesser efforts (in this case, Stanley Kramer) can still make for a fun and rewarding watch.
Here, in fact, the unintentional hokiness in this C.S. Forester adaptation by husband and wife team Edna and Edward Anhalt (PANIC IN THE STREETS) and performances by some miscast yet likable stars make the film way more watchable than it would've been without it.
The mercifully simple story is a 19th-century military yarn about a huge cannon that's pushed over a cliff by retreating Spanish soldiers to keep it out of the hands of a conquering Napoleon. The English army sends naval captain Cary Grant (TO CATCH A THIEF) to recover it with the help of the Spanish, but local rebel leader Frank Sinatra (as "Miguel") insists that Cary first help them transport the great cannon to the walled city of Avila and retake it from the French.
Lugging that big heavy cannon across the Spanish terrain with the French army searching all over for their ragtag group is no easy task, and the journey gives Cary and Frank plenty of time to clash, not only over their own vast differences (Cary's a proper, by-the-book officer while Frank's peasant rebel is brash, cocky, and headstrong) but also over Sophia Loren as an improbably sexy country babe whose impetuous beauty gives the men even more reason to compete.
Most of the action and suspense in the film's first half involve their efforts to raise the cannon out of the deep gorge in which it was pushed, hiding it from passing French troops (who somehow miss the deep grooves that the cannon's wheels must be carving into the landscape), crossing rivers and blowing up bridges, and engaging the enemy in combat while trying to rouse the local Spaniards to their aid.
In addition to this are the usual romantic complications that follow when Sophia starts to fall for the irresistible Cary while agonizing over her loyalty for long-time beau Frank, with whom she's lived for many years. (In one touching scene, cobbler Frank makes her a pair of shoes, compounding her emotional dilemma.)
Meanwhile, Theodore Bikel (who would later play the doggedly pursuing sheriff in Kramer's THE DEFIANT ONES) is the French general overseeing the occupation of Avila and hanging ten of its citizens per day to punish the errant rebels. Also getting relatively juicy parts as French officers are familiar character actors Jay Novello and Philip Van Zandt, who previously popped up in such things as Three Stooges comedies and Universal monster movies.
As you might expect, Cary and Frank eventually form a grudging respect for each other that transcends their differences, although none of these are entirely resolved when the final siege on the city of Avila begins. It's like THE ALAMO in reverse, with a ragtag group of citizen soldiers taking on a superior military force in a seemingly hopeless battle, but on different sides of the wall this time.
It's at this point that THE PRIDE AND THE PASSION's ambitions come closest to fruition, with a cast of thousands taking part in a furious, explosive battle that's highlighted by an impressive full-scale mockup of the city's immense wall. For the patient viewer the sequence serves as a reward for enduring all the film's slower and more melodramatic passages.
Cary Grant, of course, is as effortlessly appealing as ever, while the stunning Sophia Loren's impetuous beauty seems somewhat out of place--although welcome just the same--on the Spanish plains.
Hardest to swallow, though, is "Ol' Blue Eyes" as a brown-eyed Spanish peasant whose inner Nathan Detroit seems ready to burst out at any moment. Frank filled in for Marlon Brando in the role (I can't see him as "Miguel" either, but who knows?) and came to dislike Spain so much that he left location filming early, making it necessary to shoot some scenes on very obvious studio sets. His lack of enthusiasm for the project is all too obvious.
The DVD from Olive Films is in 1.78:1 widescreen with 2.0 Dolby sound and English subtitles. No extras.
For director Stanley Kramer, the film is, as stated before, a lesser yet worthwhile effort. Even his epic comedy IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD has more sweep, and his serious message films such as THE DEFIANT ONES and JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG are deeper, more convincing human dramas. But for all its faults, I found THE PRIDE AND THE PASSION an absorbing, appealing, and just plain entertaining volley that doesn't quite hit the target.
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