Saturday 18 April 2015

Movie Review: The Brothers Karamazov (1958)

A loose adaptation of the Dostoevsky classic novel about a Russian family in turmoil, The Brothers Karamazov throbs with a willingness to conquer but never quite locks into a suitable narrative arc.

In the village of Ryevsk in Russia of 1870, aging patriarch Fyodor Karamazov (Lee J. Cobb) is enjoying life to the fullest but losing control of his four sons. The eldest Dmitiri (Yul Brynner) is always in need of money to feed a gambling habit, and always one step away from trouble. But Dmitri is also quick to help others and shares his father's passion for life, attributes that attract the refined Katya (Claire Bloom). Fyodor's other sons are the educated Ivan (Richard Basehart), the monk Alexi (William Shatner), and Smerdyakov (Albert Salmi), who hangs around pretending to be family but may be more of a bastard.

With Fyodor keeping a tight fist around the family finances, the sons start plotting against their own father and against each other. Things get more complicated when Dmitri does not respond to Katya's love and instead passionately pursues the wispy Grushenka (Maria Schell), who also happens to be his father's lover.

The Brothers Karamazov boasts one majestic scene, one of those enchanted moments when the screen is consumed by the perfect balance of emotion, music and milieu. Maria Schell as Grushenka dances in an ever tightening circle as if in a trance, Yul Brynner as Dmitri Karamazov observes her, transfixed, a family of gypsies provide the music, and slowly but surely the warmly lit tavern is transformed into a cradle of passion. It lasts all of 2 minutes, but director Richard Brooks captures an eternal moment, and the scene rises up to define the film.

The rest of the experience, all 145 minutes of it, rarely touches the same heights. Yes, there is plenty of passion, tension, vigour, characters lustily imbibing life and scheming to get ahead at the expense of one and all. The drinking, womanizing and back-stabbing are rampant. But with brooding intensity and against the grim rural Russian backdrop, the narrative works its way to several dramatic dead ends where stubbornness trumps any form of logic, fistfuls of money becomes an obsession, lust and hope collide into a wreck, and not much of anything is achieved or resolved. The brothers end up in unseemly squabbles, their large spirits wasted on petty disputes.

It does not help that the supporting cast is feeble. Yul Brynner and Lee J. Cobb predictably radiate machismo, decadence and powerful personalities. But the likes of Richard Basehart, William Shatner and Albert Salmi are in a much lower league when it comes to the big screen, and they melt away into insignificance. Maria Schell and Claire Bloom do better as the blonde and the brunette in Dmitri's life. But whether the scene calls for it or not Schell goes through the entire film with a mischievous smile on her face, as if to emphasize her dual seduction of father and son.

Dripping with symbolic representations of their country, The Brothers Karamazov are hefty characters in search of befitting drama, and they don't quite find it here.

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1 comment:

  1. This movie has great actors in it my favorite the beautiful and talented Maria Schell among the other good actors. All I can say it’s better than a lot of garbage called drama that’s being made today!


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