Cyrano de Bergerac - 1950
Director(s): Michael Gordon
Writer(s): Carl Foreman (screenplay) / Edmond Rostand and Brian Hooker (play)
Cinematography by: Franz Planer
Editor(s): Harry Gerstad
Cast: José Ferrer, Mala Powers, William Prince, Morris Carnovsky, Elena Verdugo and Ralph Clanton
I feel lucky to live in an age where Puerto Ricans are at the forefront of the entertainment world, especially Hollywood. With the likes of Benicio del Toro, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Gina Rodríguez, Aubrey Plaza, and Jennifer Lopez (among many others) being constantly in the spotlight. This crop of actors and entertainers owe a lot to the ones that paved the way during times that a Hispanic actor was not commonly up on the screen, or winning Academy Awards for acting, such as José Ferrer did with his role in Cyrano de Bergerac. A film that I had not watched despite my heritage and my love for classics. A wrong since corrected. How about we talk about it.
The story takes place in seventeenth-century Paris, where a war is on the horizon, and men settle disputes at the opera with swords and poems. Our titular character, Cyrano de Bergerac (Ferrer), is just as quick with his tongue as he is with a sword, and is always looking for an excuse to us both. While Cyrano is known across France as the fiercest swordsman in the country, taking multiple men at once in combat in many occasions, he is best known for his enormous nose. Cyrano is in love with is a distant cousin, Roxane (Powers), but he thinks himself hideous and doesn't dare make a move for fear of rejection. The rejection comes anyways as she asks him to protect and guide the man she secretly loves, as he is joining the ranks of the army. When Cyrano learns that this man also is in love with Roxane, he puts her happiness above his own and helps him woo her as he is too inept to do it on his own. Roxane falls in love with the words, and that is the solace Cyrano takes from this heartbreaking situation, she is in love with his words.
Carl Foreman adapted his screenplay from the play of the same name, and it doesn't feel like he veered far from the stage. The dialogue is crisp and witty, primarily thanks to Ferrer, and the story is very much theatric. It is not a bad quality, as I still loved my experience, but at times it is like watching a play on screen. The love triangle grips you and you just want Cyrano to be recognized by the woman he loves, she loves him even though she does not know. When the story gets going, I assumed that I figure out the ending, but it had enough twists and turns to keep me engaged till the very end. And I was pleasantly surprised to not have guessed the ending at all.
I did appreciate Michael Gordon efforts to add a cinematic flair to the fight scenes and war scenes. The swordplay especially was beyond enjoyable and you can tell the actors rehearse them to the point that it was a ballet of swords between them. The cinematography by Franz Planer is fantastic, as he and Gordon used their blocking perfectly for the long dialogues of Cyrano.
However, this film is all about José Ferrer's incredible performance as Cyrano. When an actor plays a role for a long time, their performance comes across effortless, as if they are the character themselves. Think of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark or Kelsey Grammer as Frasier Crane. You cannot distinguish where their personalities end and the character starts. Ferrer had been playing this role for months on stage, cultivating this character and slowly perfecting each facial expression and voice inflection. So this one performance, on screen, feels effortless and creates the same effect even though I never saw him on stage. It takes an absurd amount of swagger and confidence to make a character in tights and a fake long nose look cool and menacing. And I honestly was blown away by how in tune Ferrer was with his character bringing him to life and selling to the audience how broken and insecure this bigger than life character is on the inside, despite his grandiose exterior.
Cyrano de Bergerac has something for everyone; elaborate sword fights, poems, quick witted humor, and a heartbreaking romance all rolled up in a 1hr and 53min runtime that flies by. From this one performance, I fully understand why Hollywood holds Ferrer in such a high standard, and I look forward to exploring his entire catalog. Go watch it now.
Cyrano de Bergerac is Why I Love Movies.
If you like this review let me know in the comment section down below. Subscribe to my newsletter so you are always up to date with all my reviews. Also, follow me over at Twitter (@yILovemovies) or over on Facebook if you want to have a conversation about movies.