14 May 2003 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Don Q very much
DeWolfe Hopper is today completely forgotten, but it's thanks to him that we know the great American poem 'Casey at the Bat'. This poem was originally published in an obscure newspaper, attracting very little attention ... until Hopper discovered it and began reciting it on the vaudeville circuit, using eccentric movements and exaggerated voices to act out the events of the poem. Hopper's recitation made him a star in vaudeville. His wife Hedda Hopper had mild success as a legitimate actress, eventually reaping greater acclaim as a gossip columnist. Their son William Hopper is best-known for playing Natalie Wood's father in 'Rebel without a Cause'.
This film version of 'Don Quixote' stars DeWolfe Hopper as Cervantes's quixotic hero. Hopper looks much too young, too well-fed and too sane for this role ... and he's not a very good actor, at least not in silent films. More interesting is the casting of Max Davidson as Sancho Panza; Davidson (who reminds me of Ron Moody) is quite funny and extremely believable in his role here as the Spanish peasant, but looks extremely Jewish. Well, maybe Sancho Panza is a Sephardic Jew. I regret that Davidson never had the success he deserved as a character actor.
The original two-part novel 'Don Quixote' is so long and complex that there are passages even Cervantes (as the narrator) begs us to skip. This movie is very much a condensed version, but that's certainly no disadvantage. We see most of the well-known scenes, with the other scenes omitted.
The famous 'they must be giants' scene is depicted from Quixote's point of view, with two windmills dissolving into a cartoon drawing of a giant, then dissolving back into windmills again.
A flaw here is the casting of attractive Fay Tincher as a genuinely beauteous Dulcinea. She actually looks too good for the role. In the novel, this woman was really a broken-down tavern slut named Aldonza, whom the deluded Quixote perceived (in his romantic fantasies) as the pure and virginal Dulcinea. As pretty as Tincher is, a major theme of Cervantes's novel is lost here in favour of casting an attractive leading lady. George Walsh (Raoul's brother) is good as Quixote's beefy opponent in one scene.
I'm prejudiced against Miguel Cervantes; after he lost his left arm at the Battle of Lepanto, he casually remarked that the loss was 'for the greater glory of my right hand'. I'm a southpaw, so I resent that remark. I'll rate this movie 3 out of 10. It's still better than the film version of 'Man of La Mancha'.