A cheap adaptation of a late 1800's French entertained me far more than several recent blockbusters and while that statement maybe unsurprising on face value, I have to let in on a little secret. I hate classical plays, I would rather be raked across a bed of hot coals than sit through an act of "The Tempest", if you invited me to see a play like "Blythe Spirit" I would directly, but politely turn you down without a moments hesitation. Yet this adaptation is more than just a run of the mill translation of a classical work to screen, in many ways it is remnant of a by gone era of film where a night at the movies was equal to a night out on the town, an era where films were truly able to appeal to the elusive "general audience" without sacrificing the integrity of its narrative. Cyrano is a film as multifaceted as its titular character, it's a swashbuckler, a comedy, a tale of romance and tragedy, whilst being a character study of a proud man yet insecure man. This film is as fun as Cyrano's nose is long........Just don't tell him that.
The introduction of our titular character is one of the best I've seen in film, within a scene you learn everything you need to know about his character. Cyrano is a man who is proud, he scoffs at aristocracy, he's unmatched in swordplay, he's a poet who can charm any women into a fine putty, yet when he has an enormous character flaw, his insecurity. As proud as Cyrano is, he is a coward when it comes to the pursuit of his true love Roxanne and his insecurity fuels much of the film's conflict, as well as it's comedy. Unlike most film's of this era Cyrano De Bergerac lacks a traditional antagonist, he isn't fighting against any one force, his struggle instead lies within himself. His pride is too overwhelming to accept compromise, when proffered the opportunity to have one of his plays presented on stage at the cost of some of his dialogue he firmly rebuffs it. When it comes to the prospect of facing one of his romantic rivals for the hand Roxanne however, he greatly concedes and even goes as far as to set the two up together. While this movie is a tale of internal conflict, it is by no means boring, the dialogue is a sharp as rapier and some of the monologues will stay with you for days, to watch Cyrano defeat his enemies with his wit is even more entertaining than those who succumb to his sword. It is worth mentioning that Orson Welles was an uncredited screenwriter on this adaptation and watching the tale of an uncompromising poet whose downfall is ultimately his pride feels pretty apropos considering where Welles was at this point in his career. It is of course impossible to review this film and not reference the performance of one Jose Ferrer as he very much makes this film a classic, I don't think I'm over exaggerating when I say that he has one of the best performances of classic Hollywood, I'd rank it against anyone it's that good. He brings such a nuance to the character and while most remember his brash monologues and sword fights, his facial expressions are what stand out to me as they express more than several pages worth of dialogue could ever hope to. Cyrano De Bergerac was a financial failure in its time but one of the reasons it lives on in the seventy years following was this performance, for which Ferrer was awarded an Oscar.
If you're looking for a fun film that also carries a bit of nuance Cyrano De Bergerac is for you. It is in the public domain so it is widely available to watch, the black and white version is currently up on youtube. Go out and watch it!