8 January 2009 | Chip_douglas
Bad memories for Christopher Lee
Arriving in cinema's almost exactly a decade after the Louis de Funès version (L'Avere), Italy's national treasure Alberto Sordi's version was released in 1990. And while this IMDb page links to 9 further versions of Moliere's 1668 play at the time of this writing, there are only two comments written about them, and both of those are for the aforementioned 1980 version. The 1990 version (copyright 1989) was directed by Tonino Cervi, although some sources say it was Alberto Sordi who occupied the directors chair as well as the editors suite.
Sordi plays the miser Harpagon himself, known as Arpagone here and does so with relish: Arpagone is able to count money by ear. The setting is moved from Paris to Rome and filmed in actual Roman palaces near Vatican city (Arpagane does business with the Pope and high ranking cardinals) and with a star studded cast including Laura Antonelli as Madame Frosina (who is given the difficult task to find a suitable wife for the miser), Marie Laforet as La Contessa, former miss Italia Anna Kanakis as Arpagone's daughter and the actor with perhaps the longest resume on this site (and still growing), Christopher Lee as the conniving Cardinal Spinosi.
Lee devotes a couple of interesting pages to L'Avaro in his autobiography "Tall, Dark and Gruesome". It is the only picture in his long career where he forgot his lines, it being a difficult speech in Italian. Methinks Lee is being too hard on himself here, for if no actor ever forgot a line, there would be no blooper reels. (and despite his knowledge of languages his voice was eventually dubbed over). Secondly, the master of the macabre grew very annoyed at the disinterest of the Italian crew who would smoke, talk and wander about during takes. This even included Alberto Sordi himself, who would repeat each one of Christopher Lee's lines after he said them. At one point it got so bad, Lee slammed his hand on a table to demand silence. Good for him. And he got it, for at least 20 minutes or so.
As the entire play is centered around the miser of the title (a perfect center role for Sordi one would think), it is a bit difficult at first to keep track of the supporting characters, most especially who is betrothed to whom while secretly loving another. It isn't until half way through the film that everyone gathers together in one room for some clarity. Of course those familiar with the play will know that family connections will only get more complicated from then on, but that's neither here nor there. The original concept of characters interrupting each other when breaking the fourth wall is not used unfortunately.
7 out of 10