Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Guest Review: The Duellists (1977)

Guest Review by Tennessee Jed

Historical dramas can be meandering, tedious affairs, more often than not drawn from overly long epic novels. Award nominations, if any, tend to be for costumes, set design, or cinematography. Even when done well, these films may take two and a half hours or more, a real drawback in a world where attention spans can wane after only two. The Duellists, nearly 35 years old, doesn’t fall into this trap and is worthy of your attention.

Set in France during the Napoleonic Wars, The Duellists is an examination of the ancient custom of duelling, which became especially prevalent in 18th and early 19th century Europe. To be sure, the film is highlighted by spectacular cinematography, set design, and wonderfully accurate costumes. But at only 100 minutes, it largely avoids the ponderous subplots so often found in this genre. The reason lies in its faithful adaption of a short story by Joseph Conrad which, in turn, was developed from an actual account of two soldiers in Napoleon’s army who fought a series of duels over 19 years.

Of particular interest to viewers today, The Duellists is the directorial feature film debut of Ridley Scott, with early starring roles for both Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel.

Background - Lieutenants Armand dʼHubert (Carradine) and Gabriel Feraud (Keitel) are both Hussar (light cavalry) officers in Napoleon’s Grand Army, each from separate regiments. The film opens in Strasbourg in 1800 during a lull in the military action. In the first scene, Feraud is engaged in a duel with a civilian whom he nearly kills. The injured man is a nephew of the local mayor, and since dueling is not only illegal, but expressly frowned upon by Napoleon himself, the mayor demands justice. The garrison commander dispatches dʼHubert, a staff officer who “vaguely knows of Feraud” to inform the duellist he is to place himself under house arrest until further notice.

dʼHubert finds Feraud at a soiree and relays the orders. Feraud is neither happy about being interrupted, nor does he understand why he is being punished since he was the “aggrieved” party. As they walk back towards quarters, Feraud continues to argue with dʼHubert, and quickly seizes upon an off hand comment to demand satisfaction. It is clear Feraud is an obsessive, looking for even the slightest provocation, yet circumstances force dʼHubert to engage him. He wounds Feraud, then leaves. The commanding General Treillard is, of course, furious and tells dʼHubert to place himself under arrest until a court of inquiry is convened. However, when war resumes, charges against both are dropped. The two then fight a series of duels across Europe over the next 15 years with neither able to finish off the other.

By the time Napoleon has suffered his final defeat at Waterloo, both have risen to the rank of general. Afterwards, dʼHubert becomes a royalist while Feraud remains loyal to the Emperor, setting up one final confrontation which resolves the storyline. That outcome is not revealed here as it would be an obvious plot spoiler.

The Art of the Duel - In this context, duelling can be defined as combat between two individuals according to pre-arranged codified rules, typically to settle a “point of honor.” Arrangements and officiating were usually completed by “seconds” chosen by the participants to insure fairness and adherence to the code of honor. The offended party usually cared less about killing his opponent than “obtaining satisfaction.” By risking his own life, the duellist proves the importance of retaining his honor. Duelling was practiced well back into medieval times or beyond, and long considered socially acceptable. Much of it evolved from a soldier’s sense of “death before dishonor,” similar to the code of Bushido among Samurai in Japan. Even in countries where it had become technically illegal, duelling was rarely prosecuted if it had been determined the fight was fair.

In this film, one of the two protagonists, Feraud, is obviously a skilled duellist, obsessive about winning, and something of a bully who enjoys humiliating his opponents. dʼHubert, on the other hand, has no obvious interest in duelling, but the soldier’s Code of Honor prevents him from walking away. The mentality driving their behaviors represents the theme of the story. Author Conrad, a native Pole living in England, was known for having a sense of tragic futility that is clearly in evidence.

What Works Particularly Well - The use of simple, straightforward plotting and reasonable pacing keeps The Duellists from bogging down, but to no surprise, it is ultimately the accuracy of the costumes, sets, and cinematography that most makes the film memorable. Scott is said to have been truly impressed with Stanley Kubrick’s classic, Barry Lyndon, which also featured a dramatic duel and authentic period sets. Indeed, I believe Scott’s primary motivation was to do his own interpretation of a similar type of film. For a first time feature director, he did a superb job, perhaps signaling things to come. The film was nominated for BAFTA awards for costume design and cinematography, and Scott won at Cannes for “best first work.” Harvey Keitel, in particular, is effective in bringing out the uncompromising obsession of Feraud and his genuine dislike of the “staffer” dʼHubert. It is clear both actors received excellent coaching in duelling technique. This is no Errol Flynn or Three Musketeers style sword fighting; rather a very real and violent portrayal.

What Turns Out To Be “Not so Much - Even though the film takes only 100 minutes, there are only so many ways to show the same two characters duelling each other (swords, horseback, pistols). Also, the two romantic relationships developed for dʼHubert, which I did not bother to describe, never really grab the viewer. They somehow feel like they are considered necessary “add ons” to the story.

In order for a story like this to truly work, the characters must ultimately make you care about them. Feraud is clearly the villain, but I think he could have been much more interesting if a little more effort had been made to develop his character. Most of what we know about him is either assumed or inferred from what Keitel brings to the role. Similarly, dʼHubert, though not exactly one dimensional, might also have been more interesting had he been more complex and less obviously “the good guy.” Given the relative brevity of the movie, the audience is not given enough chance to truly appreciate how thoroughly the practice of duelling was woven into the societal norms of the period. Thus, although we have all had to do things we did not like, it is hard to actually imagine ourselves in this situation because it is so foreign to our own experience.

Conclusions - This film was quite entertaining for me, particularly in its attention to authentic detail in costumes and sets. Upon subsequent viewing, I was able to concentrate specifically on the framing of each scene, which turned into an enjoyable exercise. While the ending is hardly a true plot “twist,” it is appropriately suspenseful and satisfying, and not overtly telegraphed. This is hardly a great or classic film, but if you like skillful cinematography, historical realism, and haven’t seen it, by all means give The Duellists a try.

Are there other historical dramas you have seen that either avoid or fall into the traps I have outlined?


AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Excellent review! Thanks. I saw this years ago but I had forgotten Harvey Keitel was in it. He's a great actor.

Tennessee Jed said...

well, Andrew - I would recommend another screening. He does a typically professional job as "the villain" in this. Unfortunately, what makes the film move right along on one level, hinders it in others. There is really no great complexity to the character. I did find it interesting how much Harvey was able to convey about the character that wasn't included as dialogue. That, to me, is a sign of a great actor. The same holds true for Carradine.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I intend to. I recall enjoying this film and your review has got me interested in seeing it again.

I agree with you that the sign of a great actor is being able to convey so much more than you get in just the dialog, and Keitel absolutely has that. He brings a lot to every role I've ever seen him in -- much more than is written on the page.

P.S. I'm still thinking about other historical films and will comment on that later.

Tennessee Jed said...

I happened to see a quote from Keitel about Ridley Scott on IMDb. Basically, the gist is that his agent taught him a valuable lesson about first time directors. Apparently, he didn't want to work with Scott who at that point had been directing commercials. The agent kept bugging him to "look at his reel." When he finally did, he was blown away at how good he was. Ever since, keitel has developed a reputation for his willingness to work with new directors.

You might consider also re-viewing Barry Lyndon for comparison sake. I remember you are not a Kubrick fan, but that one may well have been my favorite. Scott kind of did this as a "tip of the cap" to that film.

DUQ said...

Jed, Great review! I haven't seen this, but I want to now. I loved "Barry Lyndon" and I'm a huge Ridley Scott fan, so this sounds like it should be great. Plus I like Keitel a lot too.

Tennessee Jed said...

From my point of view, period pieces that involve plenty of action tend to work better. On a basic level, I suppose that makes sense. Three hours of talking heads would be hard to take. But, it also may be my own bias towards military history. Ben Hur, which has just be released on Blu Ray, may be my all time favorite: a little romance, chariot racing, and religion. I recently viwed it for the umpteenth time and found it as riveting as ever.

On the other hand, although I am a huge Reese Withwerspoon fan and thought she did a reasonable job, Vanity Fair fell into just about every potential trap you can think of.

Tennessee Jed said...

Thanks DUQ. I try to review films that I liked that didn't draw a huge audience. As such, your reaction is exactly why I do these from time to time. I think you will agree it is worthwhile.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, My favorite period piece is actually pretty evil -- Dangerous Liaisons. Talk about a twisted movie! Or Amadeus, which is great too.

But when it comes to historical period pieces (other than war films), most of them leave me unsatisfied even though I want to like them. I find they are usually trying to follow too many characters and trying to span too much time to tell a coherent story. Thus, you end up with snippets rather than a story.

That was my problem with miniseries like Winds of War and Shogun -- they lacked a coherent story and trying to add a romance to give the series a sense that it had a story just dragged everything down further.

DUQ said...

Jed, I like that because I like knowing what else is out there that I might like to see, but which I missed or didn't know about.

T-Rav said...

Great review, Jed! Keitel is a wonderful actor; I can't think of any role I've seen him in that I disliked.

The intricacies surrounding the duelling code are fascinating. For a longer primer, I would recommend Ron Chernow's recent biography of Alexander Hamilton. He goes into quite a bit of detail about the backstory surrounding Hamilton's death in a duel with Burr, as well as the general mindset about duelling.

We had duels in America as late as the Civil War, and probably later. I'd be curious to know if this is still acceptable behavior anywhere in the world today.

Unknown said...

Tennessee: No argument here. I've seen the movie two or three times since it came out, and it doesn't lose any of its merits with repetition.

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew - a great story (Dangerous Liasons) coupled with fantastic acting (Malkovich, Close, Thurman, etc.) makes for a great period film. I don't recall, but it didn't seem to be overly long. If the story is good enough, it can keep you rivited even if it's long.

Amadeus is, of course, a masterpiece. The casting of Tom Hulsce as Mozart was a huge gamble that paid off, although it ultimately was Murray Abraham's film, I thought.

I probably disagree with both Winds of War and Shogun. Of course, there I go with my military bias, again. ;-) As a matter of fact, now that you mention it, the mini-series is probably a pretty good way to do a long story since it breaks it up a bit.

Tennessee Jed said...

DUQ - again, thanks for your kind comments, they are much appreciated.

T-Rav: I haven't read that biography. I do recall reading a pretty solid account of the duel between Hamilton and Burr. It may have been in Joseph Ellis' Founding Brothers. I also found some interesting articles on duelling on the net as prep for writing this review.

Tennessee Jed said...

Hawk - agreed, although as I mention in the review, the characters tend to be a little simplistic. I think this may be because the film did faithfully follow Conrad's short story. That is what keeps the film moving along, but at the expense of enriching the characters. It might have been interesting to see what caused Feraud to become addicted to duelling. He was, in his own way, probably a man of honour. That, of course, would have added quite a bit of minutes to develop. All in all, I was satisfied with the effort on it's own terms, a good adaption of a very interesting story

Tennessee Jed said...

Once a month, our golf group gets together with the wives for dinner. They really don't last that long. My point is, I have to go out for a bit, but will respond to all comments and questions.

tryanmax said...

Sounds like a worthwhile watch. I'll root it out.

As for period pieces I like, I dunno. They all seem to fall irredeemably flat in one way or another. I am rather fond of the 1974 Murder on the Orient Express as well as Gosford Park, though I suppose that has more to do with an intrigue for the period in question.

This review put me in mind of Enemy at the Gate for some reason. I liked that.

I've never seen Dangerous Liaisons, but I understand Malkovich is at his best in it. I'll try to get it on the list.

Speaking of Malkovich, I do think The Man in the Iron Mask is the most enjoyable Musketeers adaptation of them all, even if young DiCaprio's performance is a bit stilted. The new Musketeers movie coming up looks like it promises to be an abomination.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Amadeus is indeed a masterpiece and I think you're right that Abraham really caries the movie. He has a scene where he describes Mozart's music that is just incredible. Plus, his conniving is just fun to watch.

Dangerous Liaisons is both incredibly well acted (and a well done period piece) but truly twisted, which I think keeps your eyes glued to the screen as you try to figure out what's happening.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Dangerous Liaisons is well worth watching. If you want to see some truly wicked people... these are it. I won't reveal any more so as not to ruin it for you.

The new Musketeers film does indeed seem like it will be an abomination. I probably won't even bother watching it.

Anonymous said...

I've never seen the film so I don't have much to add on that end. It's been on my Netflix list for years but I simply never got around to it. Someone on BH recommended it to me recently after I mentioned how much I love Barry Lyndon which is my favorite Kubrick film along with Dr. Strangelove. And I'm not really known for my love of the genre.

Incidentally, Keitel helped another first-time director 15 years later (Tarantino).

Ridley Scott was actually gearing up to make another historical film - an adaptation of Tristan und Isolde - when he got the call to do Alien.

T-Rav said...

Yeah, there's supposed to be a woman joining the Musketeers in this new one, isn't there? Who dreamed that up? I realize the desire to be PC and all, but does anyone really think a woman would have been a Musketeer? In the seventeenth century?

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Not just that, but it's full of kung fu moves and wire fights.

Scott, Resevoir Dogs was awesome! And what a cast! Both Keitel and Tim Roth -- great, great, great actors. And the rest aren't shabby either.

Tennessee Jed said...

tryanmax - definitely see Dangerous Liasons. Very worthwhile. The book was written in the late 18th or early 19th century and was considered incredibly scandalous. A "modern" re-make under a separate title was made with Reese Witherspoon, Ryan Phillipe, and Sheryl Michelle Gellar. I enjoyed Enemy at the Gate. Not that many modern films about the Soviets part of the war.

Tennessee Jed said...

Scott - I'd say go ahead and pull the trigger and watch it. 100 minutes! I think you, in particular, would enjoy looking at Scott's early efforts at set design and framing of scenes. BTW, I think I agree with you on the two favorite Kubrick's.

I think the female 4th musketeer is part of the new acting pc formula; e.g. hot babe kicks ass on some big brute. I could only wath the "new" Sharlie's Angels for about 35 seconds before I knew I was outta there. ;=)

T-Rav said...

Jed, I haven't seen a great deal of "Enemy at the Gates," but what I have seen I have really liked. You're right, they don't focus on the Eastern Front as much as they should. And I really like Joseph Fiennes' (?) speech near the end where he realizes that the Soviet dream would not, could not ever be realized because of how it violates human nature. I mean, it kinda sucks for him, since he can no longer believe in the cause and has nothing left to live for, but the words in themselves are very instructive.

Tennessee Jed said...

Rav - I would recommend you watch the film in it's entirety. Think of how many people just like Fiennes' character must have felt realizing the same. :)

Tennessee Jed said...

wire fights and kung fu? Aw jeez . . . . It's probably a generational thing, but I really like the 70's version with Oliver Reed.

Tennessee Jed said...

period films that really wore me out? see david lean ;-)
passage to india, . . . out of africa . . .ryan's daughter, . . . no thanks.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Yep. Wire fights, lot of CGI and all the standard garbage that's ruining films today.

David Lean?! I thought you were about to say Bridge on the River Kwai! Sacrilege!

Ed said...

Jed, I saw this a couple years ago and I loved it. This was a film with a lot of talent behind hit an it deserved to get more notice. I do agree with you about the weaknesses, but for a first time director this was a very strong effort.

Tennessee Jed said...

LOL - Bridge over the River Kwai was a classic, no question. Is this my military interest showing up yet again?

Tennessee Jed said...

Ed - thanks for commenting! Yeah, it's not so much a real weakness, just that I found myself with an interest in trying to better understand these two characters. It is almost like we see a vignette in their lives that lasts 15 to 20 years.

As I wrote this review, I almost felt like it was a catch 22. On the one hand, I loved the fact there really was no wasted footage at all. On the other hand, the "bare bones" approach leaves one with a slight feeling there is more to the story than what is being told. It is like a double-edged sword (pun fully intended.) In the end, the way it was handled stands up pretty darned well.

Koshcat said...

Haven't seen it but sounds interesting. Speaking of traps and crap but it seems we are going through a period of movies where a strong willed woman is interjected into an impossible situation. The woman is young, strong, bull headed, athletic. I keep expecting a gratuitous boob shot but then realize they expect me to take it seriously. If there were these women during those times she would either be ugly and nasty looking because she would be a commoner or a butch dyke. It would not be appropriate for a lady to behave as they show them in the same way it wouldn't be appropriate for a woman to get on an interstate overpass and pee on oncoming traffic. I guess an exception would be Joan of Arc, but what makes her story so intriguing is that she was the exception.

tryanmax said...

I'm definitely rooting this out in light of your last comment. If there is one complaint I have about most movies, it's that they don't leave anything for the audience to wonder about.

Tennessee Jed said...

Koshkat - there definitely seems to be a move afoot in Hollywood to make women the dominant force. It is most obvious to me on television, but I expect it is happening in feature films as well. I have gotten so put off by Hollywood trying to drive a particular result, I have lost interest in most recent movies. Even actors who I have respected seemed to be so politically involved (Morgan Freeman and Samuel L. Jackson most recently) I just get turned off to the idea of putting money in their pockets. I have never been so down on the film industry. Maybe that is why I keep going back to films like this.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed and Koshcat, Ironically, the movement to make women into action heroes began with the videogame industry and it wasn't feminism that sparked it.

To paraphrase a quote I saw on this topic years ago from one of the game designers behind Resident Evil, "we figure that if you were going to spend your time looking at a character killing zombies, it might as well be a hot chick so you have something else to look at."

Tennessee Jed said...

tryanmax - I know what you mean. I don't want to oversell that concept with this film, it is a fairly straightforward story, but one that works quite well. To go back to some of my thoughts about it, the viewer pretty much infers a good guy and a bad guy. But people are rarely all good or all bad. I'd be interested in your thoughts if you do see it as to how close the principals fall into that niche.

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew - I can see that as a definite motivation for sure. A commenter at BH once mentioned that he felt the rise of the woman in the lead role as a strong and physical role might have something to do that the network heads were women. Don't know if it's true or not, but it makes some sense as well.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, That's not correct. Last I knew, the heads of all the "network" networks were males -- as are the majority of cable channels. SciFi is run by a woman... who hates science fiction. Grrr.

What's going on there is a combination of demographics and something magicians have known for years....

Demographics -- most television audiences skew overwhelmingly female. That's why you rarely see "male" programming on the networks, like action shows or science fiction -- because it is presumed women don't like that kind of programming.

Magicians -- Magicians learned a long time ago to use beautiful assistants because both males and females in the audience will watch her instead of him (concert pianists apparently are careful about this too). The networks have learned from this that heroines are an easier sell than heroes.

tryanmax said...

Why pianists?

T-Rav said...

SciFi is run by a woman who hates science fiction?! That would...explain quite a lot, actually.

I wasn't aware of the quote on Resident Evil. But it's fairly obvious, given some of the...ahem...costumes. (Or lack thereof.)

Tennessee Jed said...

Andrew - that is very interesting. Ah well, it is what it is I suppose. Appreciate all the comments from everybody. Got to call it a night since I've got my trip down to DPI tomorrow. I think it will be fascinating to see their shop and talk with those guys. The history of the company is on their website. The management actually bought the company back from IMAX which tells me these guys definitely enjoy what they do.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, What they're concerned about is having an attractive woman accompany them either as a singer or violin or something like that, because they believe (correctly) that the audience will spend their time staring at the woman and will ignore the "dude at the piano."

This is something the showmanship professions have known for a long time (and made excellent use of), and which science has recently confirmed with studies that track the human eye when it sees photos or films.

Interestingly, both men and women will spend their time looking at the woman in a male/female pairing. And the more attractive the women, the more they forget the male.

Another example, which magicians know, is that the human eye is drawn to motion. Hence, the hot chick next to the magician will move at a critical point, which will automatically/involuntarily draw your eye and give him about a second to make his move.

The Afghans learned this fighting the Soviets too -- if you move, helicopter pilots will see you because their eyes are automatically drawn to motion. So you are actually better off standing in the open than ducking for cover.

tryanmax said...

So does that mean that the male contestants on Dancing with the Stars are at an inherent advantage? Did Chaz make "the switch" because s/he was planning to do DwtS all along?

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I saw the Resident Evil quote from an interview the guy gave on G4. He was quite honest about their intent to give young males something to salivate over. This was not a feminist gesture or anything. And Hollywood has learned from this that "hot chicks sell."

But to cover up what they're doing, they parade these women around to interviews to talk about this being "a strong role" and how it's another step for feminism. Yeah, right. It's selling sex... which has always sold well.

On SciFi... yep. Bonnie Hammer. When she said that she hates science fiction (actually I think she said she "doesn't like it and doesn't watch it, but you don't need to like it to understand how to program a network"), the sci-fi world FREAKED OUT!!

And it does explain why there is so little science fiction on the channel, and it explains some of their horrible choices with regard to original programming. The rest of the blame though lies with them being part of the NBC conglomerate, so they are part of the rotation that shows what NBC buys -- whether it's science fiction or not.

tryanmax said...

Might also explain the change from SciFi to Syfy.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That's a good question.

I haven't seen any studies on this, so I'm just guessing... BUT I would actually suspect males have an advantage.

Let's assume the audience is judging just based on the dancing. Let's also assume the audience is always staring at the female dancer of any pair. If that's the case, then logically, the males are not as relevant to the final score. Since the male contestants are paired with professionals, they should be more likely to impress the audience because the audience is comparing the professional dancers against the female contestants. So unless the male really makes himself stand out by being clumsy or something, the audience should favor the male contestants because they will seem to be better dancers.

But that's just a guess, especially since there seems to be a lot more involved in how people vote on that show, i.e. outside popularity, etc.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I just counted... males and females are tied 6-6 in terms of past winners. BUT if you look at the top three, then it skews male: 20-16.

AndrewPrice said...

The change from SciFi to ScyFy was actually a silly idea based on a dispute as to the meaning of science fiction.

There is a schism between "SciFi" fans and "science fiction" fans. SciFi implies Star Wars-like adventure stories and fantasy. "Science fiction" implies heavy, technical stuff. Each group has their own version of how sci-fi should be run and they get very hostile over their turf -- like the silly fight between "Trekkers" and "Trekkies." Trust me, their flame wars make Huffpo look tame.

There was a long debate at the SciFi channel about whether they were sending the wrong image with the name. They decided to change it to ScyFy so they could duck out of this controversy.

But this is such a horrible decision that even their marketing firm issued a press release saying that they counseled against the name change. That's bad.

tryanmax said...

RE: SyFy / SciFi vs. Science Fiction
Very interesting. I had no idea of the distinction. I'm just so picky when it comes to either genre, I never noticed. It seems so much shoddy storytelling, acting, and even production is excused by setting things in space. Pthzzz! (I'm so picky that, in my estimation, even Joss Whedon is only batting about a 300.)

RE: Dancing with the Stars
It's exactly as I expected. I'm certain the reason the winners are evenly split on gender lines is because the network "massages" the call-in votes to make the outcome more PC. Why risk turning a fun celebrity gameshow into a scathing social commentary?

tryanmax said...

Interestingly, at the same time I made my Joss Whedon comment, the word verification was "firefll". Weird.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I agree. I'm fairly certain they have worked hard make sure that the gender results are about equal. After all, they control the editing, the cameras, and all the little nuances that can make someone look good or bad. And if that isn't enough, they can control the judges or outright lie about phone poll -- American Idol has been accused of that for years.

On the sci-fi thing, I think it's downright silly, frankly. This is one of those things that people with too much time start worrying about. Who cares what you call it? In the end, it's all "science fiction" and people shorten that to "sci-fi." To try to pretend there's some difference in the meanings and then to fight holy wars on line over the meaning of each is just silly.

I have to say, having spent time on sci-fi website, its fans can be really annoying in the things they get upset over. They really are missing the forest for the trees a lot.

And I totally agree that far too much bad writing, bad acting and bad directing is excused by being science fiction. Unfortunately, it has the built in excuse of "I'm trying something creative" to cover up the mistakes. Also, it's too easy to get out of writing problems by just deciding "oh yeah, the aliens have that power too."

tryanmax said...

I took in this movie last night based on the review. Thanks for the heads up. I doubt I would have ever heard of it any other way. I have a different opinion than the original review on a couple of points.

I thought that d'Hubert's romantic relationships added a fair amount to that character. In fact, it is through those relationships that most of the development occurs. And I daresay the final duel would not have been as tense had the relationship not been there.

I didn't take the feeling that d'Hubert was obviously the "good guy" so much as it was apparent that Feraud was clearly the "bad guy." I know that is a subtle distinction, but as d'Hubert continually attempts to avoid Feraud we are given the sense that the former is motivated by annoyance over a sense of honor.

On the other hand, I must agree that Feraud is a mostly flat character who's motivation seems entirely chalked up to a sort of mania. Since it is based on true events, I can accept that that is all there ever was. Oddly, Feraud was given a developmental scene very late in the film that was more distracting than anything.

Likewise, it was hard to care much about d'Hubert, if only because his tempered eloquence put off an air of aloofness to his own situation. His charming moments were brief and far between.

As an aside, I thought the narration, scant as it was, was annoying. But that is likely a personal preference. Had this film been shot today, it might have been replaced by on screen text.

My ultimate assessment is that this film is primarily a showcase for dueling over anything else. A character sketch it is not. And its historicity is incumbent entirely upon the subject matter. Still, it is a fair film that, coupled with some outside historical knowledge, gives breath to an era generally experienced through much drier mediums.

Tennessee Jed said...

tryanmax - your last comment makes it worthwhile doing these reviews. The fact you state you specifically checked it out because of reading my review is exactly why I do them. I had figured this would be my last review; perhaps I will re-think that assessment now.

Of course, everyone will see something slightly different in a film and your observations are certainly all valid in that context. In fact, I don't disagree that what little character development was provided for d'Hubert comes from his female relationships. I did like the scene where his army groupie goes to see Feraud, and her acting was quite good. Perhaps it was more my way of stating the same thing you saw. That this is more a dueling showcase than a relationship movie. Conrad saw it as a slice of human futility.

This was the second pairing of Claudia Raines with Keith Carradine (Robert Altman's Nashville was the other.) I would say for me, she was less able to convey a sense of authenticity. Both relationships probably help d'Hubert in appearing as "the good guy." Sure, d'Hubert achieves that lable somewhat by default. But it is hard to fault him as seeing Feraud as an addict who can seize on anything as a point of honor. Most people can relate that he has no desire to duel with this bully, but feels trapped, since to do so would almost be an act of dishonor in itself.

It still goes back to my premise that the lack of character development has two opposite consequences. It keeps the story short and moving along, but diminishes our ability to care a whole lot about these guys.

As for the narration, you may be right. For me, it was slight enough to noticbly annoy me. If I view it again, now it undoubtedly will do since you mentioned it. ;) Not sure I exactly understand your comment about "historicity being incumbant on the subject matter." If you happen to see this, you can explain. If you don't no biggie.

tryanmax said...

I just meant that the film serves as a historical piece only because the practice of dueling as portrayed is tied to a fixed point in time. It is a drama set in history more than it is a historical drama

Tennessee Jed said...

tryanmax - got it; thanks. Obviously I meant the narration previously had not really annoyed me, but it expect it will now. Also, I must have had a case of "Casablanca" on the mind when I said "Claudia" Raines instead of Cristina. Ha!

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