I quote from Time Out Film Guide, 11th ed. "...demonstrates to what degree French cinema de qualité was rather a matter of quantity, demanding a complacent accumulation of production values in lieu of the slightest vision or intelligence." This is boilerplate, trotted out to denigrate all literary adaptations made before Truffaut and Godard arrived on the scene. The film that I saw was made by a solid craftsman well before he became a hack. The sets are often stunning (the prison out of Piranesi), the costumes superb, the actors--well, you couldn't ask for anybody better than Gerard Philipe and Maria Casarès, both 25 at the time, Renée Faure, Louis Salou, Lucien Coedel.
Christian-Jaque had one big problem when he sat down with Pierre Véry to write the script: the novel is very digressive and full of scenes that don't advance the action. It takes 40 pages from the meeting with Giletti to the knife fight resulting in Giletti's death that puts Fabrice in prison. It was necessary to eliminate some minor characters and the opening chapters dealing with Waterloo are gone (major disappointment for Stendhal fans). Most problematical: the story really gets underway when Fabrice enters prison, and that isn't until Chapter 18, more than halfway through the book. If you can be patient and wait until the half way mark in a picture that lasts almost three hours, you will enjoy a classic.
Maria Casarès was too young to play La Sanseverina, a woman in her late thirties, but let's not observe tradition here. The sexual excitement around the Gina-Fabrice-Clelia triangle is only made more potent with Casarès. The happy few can be even happier.
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