Alexander Korda's Private Lives
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Though born to modest means in Hungary, Alexander Korda would go on to become one of the most important filmmakers in the history of British cinema. A producer, writer, and director who navigated toward subjects of major historical significance and mythical distinction, Korda made a name for his production company, London Films, with the Oscar-winning The Private Life of Henry VIII. He then continued his populist investigation behind the scenes and in the bedrooms of such figures as Catherine the Great, Don Juan, and Rembrandt. Mixing stately period drama with surprising satire, these films are exemplar of grand 1930s moviemaking.
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The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)
Charles Laughton looks every inch a king in this rendition of the biography of King Henry. The film is quite entertaining even if it gets many of the major facts wrong. Probably the most outrageous point of the film is stressing the importance of Anne of Cleves as Henry's close friend and advisor, even though they were only married for six months. This is probably largely if not entirely due to the fact that Anne was being played by Laughton's wife, Elsa Lancester. Laughton received a Best Actor Oscar for his performance.
The Rise of Catherine the Great (1934)
This is a dramatizatoin of the marriage between Catherine the Great and Peter III of Russia. Catherine is played by Elisabeth Bergner in her English-speaking debut, and Peter is played by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Again, this film is somewhat historically inaccurate. Peter was actually insane. Here Fairbanks plays Peter as a somewhat off-balance but charming man.
The Private Life of Don Juan (1934)
This was Douglas Fairbanks' last feature film role. It seems that many people don't care much for this one, and I don't know why. I thought it was brilliant to have the 52 year old Fairbanks play an aging Don Juan showing all of the doubts and problems that Fairbanks himself must have had at the time. In this film Don Juan fakes his own death, returns to Seville, and is surprised to find out that he's been forgotten. It is no coincidence that this film and the previous film had father and son in it, as they had set out to England together looking for a change of pace in their careers.
Charles Laughton and Korda are together again in a filmed biography of Rembrandt's life. The film begins with Rembrandt at the height of his career and follows him through the death of his wife and his resulting loneliness. The film depicts the unveiling of Night Watch and the excommunication of his lover Hendrickje Stoffels (played by Laughton's wife, Elsa Lanchester). The best thing about this film is Laughton's performance as well as the excellent cinematography.
This set has no extras, which is often the case with the spartan Eclipse series which brings rare old classic films to the masses.
If someone knows of a better DVD transfer than this one, I'd like to know about it.
The film focuses on his domestic affairs to the detriment of the art creator. The problem is to make dynamic the creative process and is difficult whether the subject is a photographer, writer, or music composer. The long, painstaking process of creating a work is not served well by film.
The film was adequate but not in the least inspiring. It would take a cable muti-part series to do justice to the subject. Laughton is fine but does not project any interior process that we can relate too.
If you want background on Rembrandt rent a documentary or read a biography.