Monday, February 20, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 26: Two-fer Cyrano de Bergerac

Movie: Cyrano de Bergerac
Year: 1951 and 1991

Nominations 1951: Best Actor - Jose Ferrar

Nominations 1991: Best Foreign Film (France), Best Actor - Gerard Depardieu, Art Direction, Makeup, Costumes
Wins/Snubs 1951: Jose Ferrar won for playing Cyrano in English.  He beat Jimmy Stewart in Harvey and Spencer Tracy in Father of the Bride.  It's such an over the top character, it's hard to decide if he was acting or just having fun!
Wins/Snubs 1991: The movie won the Oscar for Costumes.  Gerard lost to Jeremy Irons in Reversal of Fortune.  Art Direction and Makeup went to Dick Tracy.  Journey of Hope from Switzerland also won.  

I adore this play.  It was one of the first I was able to actually read in French.  The story is really easy to follow, so it's an experience in "getting the joke" because Cyrano is so articulate he's constantly mocking people, creating double entendres, and basically trying to win the girl and keep people from mocking his nose.   The basic premise - It's a few hundred years ago in Paris, during a time of war.  Cyrano has a REALLY big nose.  For that reason, he knows he'll never get the girl.  When his dumb friend Christian falls for the beautiful Roxanne, Cyrano gives him the words to make her fall in love.  Of course, eventually Roxanne figures out the truth, but it's too late for her to do anything about it.  

After seeing Jose Ferrar on the defense in The Caine Mutiny I thought I'd check him out again.  This version is in English - though they do a terrific job bringing out the playful, if sad, spirit of Cyrano.  It's much more of a dated film that mirrors the "Saturday matinee" swashbuckling films of the 1950s.  Jose Ferrar does a good job as Cyrano, holding the screen and hoping he'll win the girl.  But he feels much more like a caricature of the big-nosed hero than an authentic representation.  The movie also cuts much more from the original play so there are some odd contrivances.  I'm really surprised Jimmy Stewart didn't take it for Harvey, particularly since Ferrar's was the only nomination for the film.    

The Gerard Depardieu version feels more like the original play, and not just because it's in French.  Depardieu is equally convincing as a sword-fighter, but in a more gentlemanly way.  You'd never call Depardieu a swashbuckler.  Instead, he's fit, charming, and a romantic.  It's just the nose.  This version is much more true to the play and is the better for it.  I love watching this - the subtitles aren't terrific if you speak French, but the translation is good enough that the jokes and mocking are pretty funny.  

The more recent Roxanne with Steve Martin is an EXCELLENT adaptation along the lines of 10 Things I Hate About You adapting "Taming of the Shrew".  Here's the best scene - it's BRILLIANT in French in the original play, but this is good too.  Many of them are direct translations.


Buttercup said...

This is a great series. Really enjoyed "Roxanne."

Jess said...

Thanks Buttercup! I like doing this series. I'm sure I'll try to stick with it. I love Roxanne too, but for a French Cyrano, you can't beat Depardieu.