26 August 2020 | brogmiller
"The Happy Isle......where only Truth is recognised".
Members of the special French Embassy that visited Madrid in 1615 were amazed to learn that Miguel de Cervantes was 'old, a soldier, a gentleman and poor'. There is no doubt that he put a great deal of himself into the character of Don Quixote and it is highly probable that parts of his masterwork were written during one of the spells he spent in prison for the crime of poverty. His own disillusionment with chivalric deeds certainly reflects that of Don Quixote at the end of the novel.
Feodor Chaliapin was undoubtedly one of the greatest actor/singers of his or any other generation. One of his signature roles was that of Don Quichotte in Massenet's opera which bears no relation at all to this loose adaptation by Paul Morand, directed by G. W. Pabst. We should be grateful that at the age of sixty the artistry of this mighty Russian bass-baritone has been immortalised on film.
Of the three language versions that Pabst made the German is now considered 'lost' and the French version is infinitely preferable to the English. The French cast is generally superior whilst the rather 'twee' voices of the anglicised version are at variance with the characters and the setting. Sancho Panza is far more convincingly played by Dorville than by George Robey whose performance smacks of the music hall. Chaliapin's French is far better than his English.
The style of the film is rather jerky and 'stop-start' and has not the seamless editing one comes to expect from Pabst's preferred editor Hans Oser. In this severely truncated version the final scenes are by far the best. The 'tilting at windmills' sequence is magnificent and its trick photography advanced for a film of the early thirties. The final scene of the burning of the books is devastating and has eerie echoes of the Nazi book-burning which took place in May of the year this film was released.
This is minor Pabst to be sure but that does not really matter as the consistently high quality of his work guarantees him a place in the Pantheon of truly great directors.
Should this bizarre, charming but flawed little film cause one to discover or indeed rediscover Cervantes' masterpiece, then it has served its purpose.