17 November 2001 | dbdumonteil
Yusupov in the flesh
THis movie -which may or may not be admired by S.Spielberg- has a not inconsiderable advantage over the other versions of this well-known (who said hackneyed?) story.At the beginning,before the credits,the real murderer appears for an interview.His wife Irina also contributes. There's a very fascinating moment:when he finally stops talking,the prince lifts his spectacles,and on with the show!
Unfortunately,what follows does not rise to the occasion.There's a very good cast(Peter McEnnery ,today forgotten,Hossein himself,G.Chaplin fresh from Dr. Zhivago ,and Gert -Goldfinger- Froebe as Rasputin),but the screenplay is self-conscious and eludes the most interesting details:Yusupov used to dress up as a woman,his relationship with Dimitri-played by Hossein who was too old for the part otherwise- was very odd,to say the least,and all this remains backstage.
The best part is the last third which is given a horror film treatment,often efficient and impressive,thanks to Froebe's sensational and bestial rendering.A beautiful cinematography and a nice score are also assets.
Yusupov died several months after his stint was filmed.The main reason for which Hossein was very anxious to have him on his side,is that,in the thirties,Yusupov sued Hollywood (and won a lot of money)because he thought one of the early versions of the story was slanderous.
I would like to reveal more interesting points and a rectification concerning Robert Hossein's 1967 movie.First of all,Hossein does not play Dimitri,as I said,but Serge Shoukotine.Dimitri's character is only a walk on,having barely one line or two to say.The reason can be found,as I said, in the fact that the relationship Dimitri/Yusupov was dubious.(Hossein made veiled hints when he shows the two men dancing together,and when Irina leaves for Crimea)
It's interesting to note that Irina,Yusupov's wife ,who was the tzar's niece,is played by Ira Von Furstenberg,an authentic princess who made a lot of movies in the seventies,mainly in Italy.The beautiful score was composed by Hossein's father André.This was not a big budget production,and yet Hossein succeeds in bringing on the screen the magnificence of Russian aristocracy before the revolution.Henri Persin's sumptuous cinematography creates an entrancing atmosphere:a splendid shot shows Chaplin and Mc Ennery,seen from a distance in a forest,going near the camera slowly.
What's definitely lacking is vigor ,and a dramatic progression.The relationship Rasputin/Yusupov ,which is the core of the film, does not work that much well.It looks as if we're going sightseeing in Russia. Outside Gert Froebe,the stand out is Geraldine Chaplin ,who portrays a naive young girl,beguiled by the monk.But McEnnery's performance is too static and
not on a par with his enemy's.The political situation is a pale backdrop(and yet,there's the war and a revolution is just round the corner!)
If you intend to watch this movie,do not miss the first five minutes,which have become an authentic historical document cause Yusupov died in 1968 and his wife followed him to the grave two years later:trying to rescue a cat on a roof during a wintry night,she caught cold and died from pneumonia.