Cyrano de Bergerac (1950) starring Jose Ferrer

I think MANY people already know the story: In 1640s France, Cyrano (Jose Ferrer), a swordsman/poet (who has a way w/ words and a VERY large nose) hopelessly loves his beautiful cousin Roxane (Mala Powers). His friend, Le Bret, urges him to tell her his feelings, BUT Cyrano thinks he’s TOO ugly and will be rejected. Cyrano is some years older than Roxane; they played together as kids and she trusts him totally. One day, at the bakery (owned by aspiring poet Rageneau), she confesses to Cyrano her love for the handsome/tongue-tied Christian de Neuvilette (William Prince), a new soldier in the Corps de Guards. Christian feels inadequate b/c he can NEVER find the right words to express his love. Cyrano sets out to help Christian woo Roxane w/ words (via letters/speeches). A scheming/older nobleman, De Guiche, is plotting to marry Roxane. Cyrano distracts the man while a priest secretly marries Roxane and Christian, right before the Guard are sent to fight (in war w/ Spain).

Each night, Cyrano (who is romantic and reckless) runs across enemy lines to deliver letters to Roxane. In time, Christian realizes that Cyrano loves Roxane, too. Of course, Cyrano denies it, saying that he has become emotional ONLY b/c he loves his own words. Rageneau brings food to the hungry soldiers; Roxane is w/ him (as she was desperate to see Christian). The couple is reunited before Christian is fatally wounded. As he lies dying, Cyrano tells Christian that Roxane ONLY loved him. Roxane finds a final letter peeking out off Christian’s pocket.

For the next 20 years, Cyrano continues w/ his poetry (and upsetting his enemies, incl. Cardinal Richelieu and De Guiche) and training of soldiers. One night, De Guiche’s men plan an attack (which looks like an accident); Cyrano is thrown to the ground and injures his head. The doctor tells him to stay in bed and rest, or he will surely die. Cyrano doesn’t listen and walks to the convent (Roxane’s home) to tell her the week’s gossip. She takes out a piece of paper from her locket and asks Cyrano to read it- Christian’s last letter. The words have faded toward the end. The daylight is also fading in the garden (where they sit), the nuns are gathering for evening prayers, while Cyrano recites the letter. Roxane finally realizes that he was the man who won her heart, NOT Christian! She rushes to his side, crying, and asking why he never revealed his feelings. Cyrano replies: “The words were mine, but the blood was his.” He gets up (sensing the end is near), pulls out his sword, and does “battle” w/ enemies (ideas) he hates before dying.

I’m a big fan of the 1990 French film starring Gerard Depardieu (Cyrano), Anne Brochet (Roxane), and Vincent Perez (Christian). The cinematography was amazing, as was the music. This film was made w/ a small budget; some of the action scenes are TOO dark. Though Ferrer (who was married for many years to actress/singer Rosemary Clooney, George’s aunt) is VERY engaging in the title role, his co-stars (Powers and Prince) are NOT that interesting. It’s easy to buy Brochet as a sensitive/literary-minded woman; Perez is NOT only gorgeous, he brought depth to Christian. As for the swordsman-ship, Ferrer carries it off well (as do the supporting actors). Also, Ferrer has the trim figure of a soldier (unlike Depardieu). Ferrer’s voice is very confident and memorable; he really inhabits the role. In the final scene, you can’t help BUT become emotional!

Producer Stanley Kramer was VERY worried about the box-office prospects, complaining that no one would be able to pronounce the name of the hero/title or that of the lead actor (who came from the theater world). There are no huge sets or spectacular camera shots; it’s the play, performed (w/ added scenes in prose rather than blank verse translated from French). The film was a modest success, partly due to the low budget ($400,000) and to Ferrer’s (Best Actor) Oscar win. He was the first Hispanic actor (born in Puerto Rico) that won an Academy Award. Some of you may have seen his son, Miguel Ferrer, who was a highly respected character actor (and the spitting image of his father).

[1] …this film boasts what is certainly one of the greatest performances in the history of film–and especially American film. José Ferrer… gives the performance of his life as Cyrano. His portrayal is in every way the equal of Depardieu’s, and as far as I am concerned, even better. Depardieu relies on sincerity and subtle facial expressions. Ferrer also has these, but he has in addition one of the most beautiful, rich voices ever to come out of the theatre, and magnificent enunciation as well. His portrayal is more flamboyant than Depardieu, and he shows a heartbreaking sense of tragedy as he realizes that the beautiful Roxane will probably never be his. The “big moment” in the final scene is shattering in Ferrer’s hands.

[2] Jose Ferrer covers all the possible emotions an actor can in his role. He is comedic, brave, adventurous, romantic, self-sacrificing, elegant, pitiful, nimble-witted, gallant, prideful, humble, he fully recognizes his short-comings, and, most of all, he is true to his code of honor.

[3] Jose Ferrer delivers the performance of a lifetime that strikes deep into the heart. Anyone who has even been mocked, scored, or ridiculed, or simply felt unworthy of the affections of another will sympathize with Cyrano…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews


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