Article 2819 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-25-2009
Posting Date: 5-2-2009
Directed by Henry Levin and George Pal
Featuring Laurence Harvey, Karlheinz Bohm, Claire Bloom
Two brothers try to make ends meet while collecting fairy tales. In the process, three tales are presented. In the first, a woodsman seeks to find out how a princess is wearing out her shoes. In the second, a cobbler, unable to complete his work on time, gets help from an unexpected source. In the third, a knight and his squire seek to kill a dragon.
My comments about yesterday's movie (WEB OF THE SPIDER) and this one dovetail nicely. For the former, I complained both about the overuse of close-ups and the dreadful pan-and-scan used in the presentation of the movie. My copy of this fares much better than the latter in this regard; it is letterboxed (though, from what I just read, it appears that it is not complete, due to water damage to the original negatives). It is also a movie with some historical interest in this regard; it was the first major motion picture to be released in the Cinerama format (though not the first filmed). Knowing that the movie was filmed for the Cinerama process helped me to understand some of the artistic decisions that were made, and gave me a grasp of why I felt the movie was very uneven.
The Cinerama process was basically about spectacle, and many of the decisions were made to make use of this aspect. I'm sure that's the reason it opens with a war scene when the war has precious little to do with the story. It's also the reason for the protracted carriage ride in the second story, in which we get many POV shots of the horse carriage barreling down the road. It also made me fully aware that, though I was seeing a letterboxed print, that I simply wasn't experiencing the movie in the way that it was intended. This may well be true for any theatrical movie shown on television that I've seen, but this may be the movie I've seen where I've most felt the loss. Alas, the opportunity to see it as it was originally intended will most likely never come, so I may have to make do with this.
Since the fairy tales themselves are matters of spectacle, they come across the strongest; each one of them is a delight, and each one is delightful in its own special way. From the dancing in the first story to the puppetoon animation in the second to the stop-motion work in the third, all augmented by fun performances from familiar faces, these are the highlights of the film. Incidentally, the tales are directed by George Pal.
My problems arise with the biography section of the story. That they would choose a more light-hearted Hollywood-style version of the lives of the Brothers Grimm is perhaps no surprise, but even this type of approach requires that we gain a little intimacy with the characters. One good way to get that intimacy is the use of close-ups. Unfortunately, as good as Cinerama may be for spectacle, it's less effective for intimacy, and it's hard to get involved with the characters when the movie is too busy trying to impress you with the set for the village; a few close-ups, especially in the early sections of the movie, would have helped. At any rate, I never get interested in the biographical section of the movie; only when it veers into fantasy by having one of the brothers be visited by characters from his fairy tales during a fever dream does it hold my attention. I somehow think it would have been more satisfying to jettison this section of the movie and just show several fairy tales.
I do wonder, though, whether it might not have worked better if George Pal had been given his first choices for the actors portraying the brother; he wanted Peter Sellers and Alec Guinness. That would have been something to see.