Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Glenda as Sarah !

Another slice of deliriously awful '70s trash: the truly dreadful costume film: THE INCREDIBLE SARAH with Glenda Jackson as French actress Sarah Bernhardt.  The first thing we see though is the Readers Digest logo, as this is a Readers Digest film .... Then there is this message: "Sarah Bernhardt was one of the greatest actresses who ever lived. ... This motion picture is a free portrayal of events in her tempestuous early career." So, we know what to expect ...

I don't think too many people saw THE INCREDIBLE SARAH back in 1976 - I had no interest in it and there are only 2 comments on it at IMDB. I remember Pauline Kael being annoyed in her review, that she would  now have a mental image of Glenda Jackson whenever Bernhardt was mentioned! 

As the reviewer at IMDB says: Bernhardt was French. She performed in French. When she was on tour in Britain, in America, in Russia - no matter where she was, she performed in French. Her tumultuous emotion was so intense, it bypassed any language barrier. Here though everything is in English, so we get no idea of what other nationalities made of her performances.
This was the era when biopics were not held in high regard and so it is here (Vanessa as ISADORA was the exception) as sets are garishly overlit (in this era of gas lights) and the costumes all look as though they have never been worn before. A considerable cast is wasted: the great Yvonne Mitchell has nothing to do as Sarah's maid, (it was Mitchell's last film),. Daniel Massey plays Sardou just like his Noel Coward in STAR! and is also the heroine's friend and confidant as various men come and go: John Castle, Simon Williams, Douglas Wilmer and others. Every cliche is lovingly burnished as young Sarah goes to her first audition, demands to be the greatest actress of all, stomps all over everyone and is an absolute pain in the neck, what with her resting in her coffin and other annoying habits. Glenda - so excellent when reined in as in Schlesinger's SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY, is given free rein here to indulge in all her mannerisms and soon begins to grate.

SARAH can be dismissed and laughed at as hopeless trash - it omits a lot of The Divine Sarah's life and does not end, it just mercifully stops after her Joan of Arc performance as we are back to those Art Nouveau Alphonse Mucha posters of Bernhardt. We see none of the later Sarah after her legs were amputated, no mention of Oscar Wilde or others she knew. A particularly amusing moment has her arriving by train at a station titled 'London' - surely even The Readers Digest knows that there is no 'London' station in London - London stations have names like Victoria or Waterloo, but hey lets keep it simple. Richard Fleischer directed this farrago - after his great run in the '50s with films like THE VIKINGS, COMPULSION, BARABBAS, his later 70s ones were undistinguished items like this and that dreadful PRINCE AND THE PAUPER, ASHANTI, MANDINGO, THE JAZZ SINGER ...

Its been a bit of a Glenda festival though. as I also enjoyed re-runs of NASTY HABITS, TRIPLE ECHO, and RETURN OF THE SOLDIER, which I may review some other time.  The '70s was Jackson's great era with those movies for Ken Russell, Losey and others. She also did a lot of stuff that also bypassed me as I had no interest in her comedies with George Segal or Walter Matthau, or routine fare like TURTLE DIARY. How she won a second Oscar for a routine comedy I had no interest in seeing, was surprising at the time. She played Patricia Neal for tv in THE PATRICIA NEAL STORY with Dirk Bogarde. I particularly liked her very touching STEVIE as the poet Stevie Smith, another one to re-see, as is her great television series ELIZABETH R whom she also played in MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS. A very varied career then. She ran for parliament and became an MP in 1992, retiring from acting.
That recent set of interviews BRITISH LEGENDS OF STAGE AND SCREEN has a new interview with her, commenting on her career. I have not seen her section yet, I wonder if she mentions THE INCREDIBLE SARAH !

I saw her on stage twice, in 1967 in THE THREE SISTERS, right,  at the Royal Court, as mentioned before, Theatre label, where Marianne Faithfull was a luminous Irina, and in THE MAIDS in the '70s with Susannah York, which was also filmed.  
She was blissfully funny in her often-repeated appearances on the BBC Morcambe & Wise shows, particularly that one where she was Cleopatra, which apparantly led to her comedy roles. All together now: "All men are fools and what makes them so is having beauty like what I have got".!.and she was very funny in that cameo in Ken's THE BOYFRIEND.

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