Thursday, 27 December 2012

Review - Man of la Mancha (1972 - Dir. Arthur Hiller)

I did a double take when the name of the director came up: Arthur Hitler. Ah... no, Arthur Hiller. Easy mistake to make.

This is the fourth in our season of beloved musicals. It also suffers massively from the main reason why I hate musicals. When a character starts to sing, everyone else miraculously knows all the words. Not only that, they can sing it with three part harmonies. And perform a funny little dance routine. Satan has yet to come up with a greater sin. Man of la Mancha falls foul of this many times. A bunch of grizzled prisoners suddenly gain the singing ability of Mick Ball and the dance moves of Len Goodman. Preposterous. 

Man of la Mancha is a musical version of Don Quixote. It starts off with an allegedly true story from the life of the author Cervantes. He gets banged away in a prison for being a poet (fair enough) with the heavy threat of the Spanish Inquisition looming over him. The other prisoners can't stand his poetic ways either so they put him on trial. He tries to convince them of his worth by getting them to act out the story of Don Quixote with him. And have a bit of a sing too. Great defense. If I'm ever up in court, I'm going to have a go at that. I'll get the judge to pretend to be Scar and sing along to songs from The Lion King. The lawyers can dance and pretend to be giraffes or something. Guaranteed acquittal. 

Everything was going so well(ish) for the first twenty minutes. It looks gorgeous and made me think of what could have been if Terry Gilliam had made his version. Peter O'Toole was growing on me, playing both Cervantes and Don Quixote, even though his make up is one of the creepiest things since Bobby in The Divide. There's even a smidgen of Carry On humour as the buxom Sophia Loren walks in carrying a brace of jugs. But then the songs start. Very few of them are memorable and most sound as if the actors are making them up on the spot. The middle hour or so is dire. It was worse than being tortured by the Spanish Inquisition. Severe boredom doesn't do it justice.  

At this point I was deciding between a rating of 1 or 0. But it managed to turn it around. The ending is actually pretty engaging and dare I say touching at points. The aforementioned couple of memorable songs are repeated towards the end and I forgot the turgid hell-hole of the middle section. Almost.

Man of la Mancha is a huge test of endurance but there is some entertainment value, especially for hardcore musical fans. To sum up, it's obscure. Well, I hadn't heard of it before. It makes its 132 mins running time feel like 132 years, but it has got some filmic worth. For only the second time in history a film gains the coveted Werner Herzog obscurendure award. 

(Amazingly enough this award is in no way endorsed by the genius Werner Herzog.)

If you like this you could also try:
Lost in La Mancha, Don Quixote (1957).

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