17 April 2009 | Bunuel1976
SIMON BOLIVAR (Alessandro Blasetti, 1969) **1/2
To begin with, I had never heard of this one before its late-night screening on Italian TV not too long ago; the sole appraisal I read about it back then gave the film – revolving around the struggle under the titular general to unite the South American countries into repelling the Spanish oppressors – the thumbs down but I have to say that I liked it well enough. Incidentally, it proved distinguished director Blasetti's swansong – a return to the epic scale of his most famous productions i.e. THE IRON CROWN (1941) and FABIOLA (1948), though certainly not up to them despite effort all round. Maximilian Schell makes a fine, thoughtful lead; he is supported by the likes of Rosanna Schiaffino (as the unfulfilled wife of an enemy officer who becomes romantically involved with Bolivar) and Francisco Rabal (as a peasant leader who, at first, is unwilling to serve under the Venezuelan general but subsequently emerges the most loyal among his allies). As a matter of fact, Schell brings together about 5 different factions – all of whose individual endeavor had proved futile, while as one army they manage to make a considerable dent in the Spanish lines; that said, Bolivar's zeal (driving the exhausted soldiers on to further conquests) is misconstrued even by his own followers and ends up accused of dictatorial presumptions! Needless to say, the film's tone is heavily redolent of the revolutionary fervor which marked the latter half of the 1960s: in that respect, one can also detect links with the Spaghetti Western subgenre – particularly in view of a jauntily rousing score by the reliable Carlo Savina. The emphasis here is on impassioned speeches and period detail (the widescreen location photography is a big plus, too) rather than sweeping battle scenes yet, when it has to rely upon them, they are still reasonably well-staged.