Louis Napoleon III takes advantage of the American Civil War to circumvent the Monroe Doctrine and expand his power by helping Emperor Maximillian Hapsburg to add Mexico to his empire.Louis Napoleon III takes advantage of the American Civil War to circumvent the Monroe Doctrine and expand his power by helping Emperor Maximillian Hapsburg to add Mexico to his empire.Louis Napoleon III takes advantage of the American Civil War to circumvent the Monroe Doctrine and expand his power by helping Emperor Maximillian Hapsburg to add Mexico to his empire.
The story concerns the short reign of Maximilian von Hapsburg (Aherne) as Emperor of Mexico, seduced into taking the position by Napoleon III (Rains) who convinces him that the Mexican people want a monarchy. They don't. Opposing Maximilian is the man of the people, Benito Juarez (Muni), who has the support of the United States. Both Maximilian and Juarez want many of the same things, but Maximilian's hard work to unite the Mexican people and stop the fighting fails.
Though the title is "Juarez," the workhorse role belongs to the underrated Brian Aherne, an excellent actor from the theater who took second place to Errol Flynn at Warner Brothers. Though superstardom eluded him, he was a brilliant actor and a handsome man who turned in many great performances during a 43-year career. His Maximilian is gentle, likable, strong, and sympathetic. He gets third billing to Muni and Davis. Davis plays the Empress Carlota, Maximilian's wife. It's a secondary role but she has a huge, dramatic scene when Carlota returns to France to insist that Napoleon III keep his troops in Mexico. One of the best moments in the film is Carlota, going mad and believing the French court is trying to poison her, running out into the night, her white dress slowly disappearing. Davis wears magnificent gowns and has dark hair that seems to emphasize her huge eyes even more. She looks quite beautiful and gives a solid performance as a fragile woman devoted to her husband.
Paul Muni's Juarez is stiff, and he looks and acts as if he's embalmed. Muni was a great actor who delved deeply into his roles, and it's not clear what he was thinking when he gave this performance. Undoubtedly he had researched Benito Juarez to the ground and was giving an exact representation of him. But as Bette Davis once said, "True acting is larger than life." Muni needed something more for this role but doesn't supply it. John Garfield's Porfirio Diaz is odd casting. He makes a little attempt at an accent; underneath that dark makeup is still John Garfield. Supposedly his role was cut down. Back in 1939, audiences were just getting to know him, so his performance probably held up well back then. Nowadays one only thinks, "Why is John Garfield playing a Mexican?" "Juarez" is rich in detail - it occasionally is plodding and runs a bit long in an effort to supply the historic happenings. But it is well worth seeing for the performances, the story, and those Orry-Kelly gowns.
- Sep 22, 2006