The undortunate side effect of the faithfulness is that Richard III has a real Masterpiece Theatre quality that you just can't shake. Olivier plops the camera down at one end of the room and lets scenes take place in wide shots, unmolested. Long scenes are certainly forgivable, but the end result is that this rendition of the story looks far more like a play than a movie. It isn't until the second half of the film when we really get out of the castle, and thank God we do. But unfortunately, even these scenes aren't exactly thrill rides. The landscapes chosen are barren and void of majesty. Sword fights are genteel affairs with no distinguishable choreography. Why ride an army out to battle if you're not going to use them?
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Put simply, Alexander the Great is a colossal bore. Directed by Robert Rossen (The Hustler, All the King's Men), this visit to the epic well comes off far worse than contemporaries Ben-Hur and Cleopatra. What's the problem? Well, the troubles are legion. Start with Richard Burton, engaging here in the lead role of the philosopher/warrior/conquerer, but given a series of brooding sermons to deliver for well over two hours. Burton doesn't carry the movie as he absolutely has to; the result is an experience not unlike attending a late night lecture. Then there's the warfare. Those of us spoiled on modern epics like Troy will find the playful skirmishes here on the laughable side. Sure, you can stage a battle with just a couple hundred men and no special effects if you shoot it carefully, but if your warriors look tired and on the verge of striking, you won't quite get the necessary effect. My little brother and I had more authentic swordfights when we were kids, using sticks in the backyard. Pretty sad considering Alexander conquered Europe and Asia.
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The plot is somewhat predictable, but it's what you do with it along the way that counts. Keyes did a lot. Unfortunately, the film version (renamed Charly) doesn't do much beyond the obvious. As Charly gains intelligence, we're supposed to see the world develop through his eyes, but mostly we just see him studying and having boring conversations with love interest Claire Bloom. Robertson won an Oscar for the role, but his portrayal of the mentally disabled Charly seems crude by today's standards and inconsistent in tone - at times he's suspiciously aware, other times unrealistically slow. Robertson does better with Charly the genius, but this part of the film doesn't last that long and feels like an Outer Limits episode, with Robertson talking about the dehumanizing future and walking around in a lab coat narrating silly "scientific" dialogue.
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