Movie Review: Cyrano de Bergerac – by Jean Claude Volgo

A movie review by my reader and occasional guest blogger, Jean Claude Volgo:


United Artists, 1950, B & W, 112 minutes

Directed by Michael Gordon

Stanley Kramer Productions

This film adaptation of a celebrated French play features the inimitable José Ferrer in the leading role as the swashbuckling hero. His brilliant performance as Cyrano garnered him a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Actor. The plot, largely fictional, draws freely on anecdotes loosely based on a real historical figure: a 17th century French nobleman, Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac, who dabbled in drama and science fiction, and eventually fell out of favor with the French authorities on account of his satirical jibes at the clergy and politicians. Cyrano’s fierce independence (jealously guarded with his dreaded épée) was legendary.   His swordsmanship, his poetic gift and (need we mention?) his notorious nose are reported attributes which are immortalized in the play. But what about Cyrano’s love interest, Roxanne? She was indeed his cousin in real life, but the romantic story line of unrequited love is dramatized fiction.

What sets this production apart from “costume dramas” of the same Hollywood era is the highly polished diction of the protagonist. The dialogue liberally borrows from the blank verse of Brian Hooker’s translation (1923), which strives to capture the cadence of the original French, composed in heroic hexameter by Edmond Rostand (1897). Rostand himself set out to emulate the poetic style of an earlier era, the Classical Age (1600’s).

The digitally-restored print of this artistic tour-de-force (which has fallen into undeserved neglect) is a crisp copy that projects the look of a newly released film in black-&-white.

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