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George Bernard Shaw on Film

Claude Rains , Vivien Leigh , Chester Erskine , David Lean    NR (Not Rated)   DVD
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile, Even If You Disagree With Shaw March 1 2010
By Jennifer Bogart TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:DVD
Criterion's Eclipse series is a collection of lost, forgotten, or overshadowed classic films, bundled and presented in simple editions. Eclipse Series 20 - George Bernard Shaw On Film gathers together three of the master playwright's works as adapted to film by the producer Gabriel Pascal: Major Barbara (1941), Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), and Androcles and the Lion (1952).

The black-and-white Major Barbara follows a bold Salvation Army officer in her quest to save souls, through her disappointment in the organization's financial dependence on questionable sponsorship, and on to a new type of hope. Featuring a superbly unforgettable performance by Wendy Hiller in the feature role, and a dreamy, young Rex Harrison as her fiancé "Dollie," this captivating and emotionally authentic film struck me as the winner of this collection.

Caesar and Cleopatra is a luxuriously produced technical spectacle starring Vivien Leigh (after her Gone With the Wind performance) in an incredibly coy and playful depiction of the Egyptian queen. Claude Rains is her opposite as the suave and confident Julius Caesar who is alternately fascinated and frustrated by this young royal.

This full-fledged costume drama was an economic disaster, with a cost of $5 million, and a loss of $3 million; imported Egyptian sand, moving filming to Cairo, it all added up. Sadly, the film itself is rather ponderous and slow moving, all the more so for those of us with modernized cinema viewing habits firmly entrenched. Still, there are some fine moments of acting amongst the dramatics - the young boy-king Ptolemy was wonderful, as was the charming Apollodorus (Stewart Granger).
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
51 of 54 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars MAJOR BARBARA is from a heavily cut edition--beware June 11 2010
By RES - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
The Criterion/Eclipse Series' MAJOR BARABARA in the "George Bernard Shaw on Film" set looks all right (not a real restoration) but has a very serious drawback. The original theatrical film runs 136 minutes, and was issued that way on New Century Telecommunications and Janus VHS a few decades ago (the Janus was a 4% sped-up PAL-NTSC conversion, so it ran 131 minutes); it was aired on TV (most recently on Bravo) at 136 minutes as well. The new DVD version was apparently transferred from a heavily edited reissue for another market and runs only 122 minutes--15 minutes edited out (there were several of these re-workings for different markets, even a US version of 100 minutes, a true abomination)! Consequently, a good deal of Shaw's crisp, brilliant dialog is gone, and the dialog continuity is like Swiss cheese. I was looking forward to this film's DVD re-appearance for a long time, and to receive it as an unacceptable, heavily re-edited version, especially under the Criterion aegis (itself transferred from a new short UK edition, is a terrible disappointment. Avoid!
37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars G.B. SHAW ON FILM Feb. 5 2010
By Michael B. Druxman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
The works of George Bernard Shaw are like the works of William Shakespeare. They were written to be performed on the stage, not on film.

If you want these great plays to work in the motion picture medium, then adjustments must be made.

Shaw's comedies, in particular, though filled with colorful characters and brilliant wit, are also burdened with his social commentary and speechifying, which might work well in the theatre, but taxes the patience of a movie audience.

Such a "burden" was lifted when Lerner & Lowe turned the playwright's PYGMALION into the hit musical, MY FAIR LADY. Songs took the place of the cumbersome speeches.

Shaw was personally involved in both the casting and production of the first two films in this collection, MAJOR BARBARA (1941) and CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA (1945), and the result is pure Shaw. That is not, necessarily, a bad thing if you approach these pictures as a filmed version of a stage play.

Yes, in both movies, director Gabriel Pascal does his best to "open up" the action, even to the extent of incorporating some brief battle sequences into the Technicolor CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA, but at the end of the day, these are still two filmed stage plays with all of the playwright's long speeches seemingly uncut and too many key events taking place off-stage.

Again, that is not to say that pure Shaw cannot be entertaining. It can be, particularly when the splendid casts of these pictures deliver his clever dialogue.

MAJOR BARBARA stars Wendy Hiller, a favorite of the playwright, as the daughter of a wealthy munitions manufacturer (Robert Morley). She works as a Salvation Army officer and speaks out against the hypocrisy she believes exists in her organization. Rex Harrison, Robert Newton and newcomer Deborah Kerr co-star.

Although Shaw was not happy with her performance, Vivien Leigh is absolutely charming as the kittenish Cleopatra in CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA, which co-stars Claude Rains in a brilliantly subtle performance as the Roman leader.

Stewart Granger and Flora Robson are also in the cast of what was, at that time, the most expensive British film ever produced.

Pascal produced, but did not direct ANDROCLES AND THE LION, the first Shaw play to be filmed after the playwright's death. The directing assignment fell to Chester Erskine.

Although it has other issues, this 1952 release is certainly the most audience pleasing of the Eclipse trio, probably because it's more movie than filmed stage play. The witty dialogue is still present, but Shaw's lengthy social commentary has been kept to a minimum.

Do you think this movie caused the great man to turn in his grave?

Also contributing to the picture's success is the extremely likable performance of funnyman Alan Young in the title role of the shy, animal loving, Christian slave who pulls a thorn from a lion's paw and, as a result of his kind act, is spared from death in the Roman Colosseum.

Jean Simmons, Robert Newton, Maurice Evans, Elsa Lanchester and Reginald Gardiner contribute to the fun. Indeed, a confrontation scene between Gardiner and Newton with Young trying to intercede, is a comic highlight.

Only Victor Mature, as the Roman centurion who falls in love with doomed Christian Ms. Simmons, seems a bit out of his league in his role. The actor is certainly adequate, but a James Mason or a Laurence Olivier might have delivered a more interesting reading of Shaw's words.

© Michael B. Druxman
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile, Even if You Don't Agree With Shaw March 1 2010
By Jennifer Bogart - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
Criterion's Eclipse series is a collection of lost, forgotten, or overshadowed classic films, bundled and presented in simple editions. Eclipse Series 20 - George Bernard Shaw On Film gathers together three of the master playwright's works as adapted to film by the producer Gabriel Pascal: Major Barbara (1941), Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), and Androcles and the Lion (1952).

The black-and-white Major Barbara follows a bold Salvation Army officer in her quest to save souls, through her disappointment in the organization's financial dependence on questionable sponsorship, and on to a new type of hope. Featuring a superbly unforgettable performance by Wendy Hiller in the feature role, and a dreamy, young Rex Harrison as her fiancé "Dollie," this captivating and emotionally authentic film struck me as the winner of this collection.

Caesar and Cleopatra is a luxuriously produced technical spectacle starring Vivien Leigh (after her Gone With the Wind performance) in an incredibly coy and playful depiction of the Egyptian queen. Claude Rains is her opposite as the suave and confident Julius Caesar who is alternately fascinated and frustrated by this young royal.

This full-fledged costume drama was an economic disaster, with a cost of $5 million, and a loss of $3 million; imported Egyptian sand, moving filming to Cairo, it all added up. Sadly, the film itself is rather ponderous and slow moving, all the more so for those of us with modernized cinema viewing habits firmly entrenched. Still, there are some fine moments of acting amongst the dramatics - the young boy-king Ptolemy was wonderful, as was the charming Apollodorus (Stewart Granger).

Androcles and the Lion is another black-and-white production which abandons any subtle hints of wit and goes for the full-out comedic, interspersed with moments of serious philosophical contemplation. Starring Alan Young as the comical Androcles in Shaw's adaptation of the classic fable, this is the only film in the collection that wasn't directed by Pascal himself. Directed by Chester Erskine with Pascal as a producer, this film also received no input from the playwright himself (which perhaps explains the outright comedy).

Again tackling Christianity, the Christian Androcles (who has a remarkable way with animals) is a lovable, naïve fool, while the lovely Lavinia (Jean Simmons) is revealed by the film's end to be a female version of Shaw himself - passionate about morality but doubting in the existence of any one, true God. While I certainly don't agree with the renowned playwright and the strong philosophical undertones his works exhibit (mainly religious pluralism and a sort of socialist utopia), they still make for interesting works of study. Even in these adaptations, Shaw's intellect and wit are clearly apparent, with a depth to each film's dialogue that must be explored through repeated viewings.

Having been adapted from plays, and in accordance with Shaw's wishes, with little alteration, there remain large sections of `talk' within each of these films. Monologues, triumphant closing statements that drive home Shaw's conclusive points, clearly show the origin of these works. Large ensemble scenes with huge casts of extras, elaborate sets, and lovely scores lend a `big Hollywood picture feel' to each inclusion, though only Androcles found a Hollywood backer.

These DVD releases are remarkably well preserved, with no noticeable flaws in the picture. Each film is presented on its own DVD with a simple scene navigation menu included along with a play through feature. The liner notes for each disc from historian Bruce Eder are invaluable and provide a miniature film studies lesson. Eder touches upon the relationship between Shaw and Pascal, their collaborative process, choices of actors, film costs, commercial success, and more.

Though nearly all of us are familiar with My Fair Lady, based upon Shaw's Pygmalion, that is often as far as our exposure to the works of Shaw on film extends. Shaw devotees seeking to delve further into the film adaptations of Shaw's plays, will find Eclipse Series 20 - George Bernard Shaw On Film fits the bill.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Desperate Times Call For... Sept. 17 2012
By ArtDC - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
The ONLY reason I bought this DVD was it seems to be the ONLY U.S. version of Major Barbara currently available. Wendy Hiller, just as she was in Pygmalion, is a Shavian revelation. And her interplay with Morley is brilliant. Its such a shame that the producers let such an arbitrarily cut version be perpetuated, rather than putting out the original version. However, its WENDY HILLER IN SHAW. Even poorly edited, it qualifies as some of the best acting of the last century. By the way - the other two plays are well done and enjoyable, with fewer poor cuts.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice Threesome Jan. 29 2012
By William the Archer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
I had been looking for Androcles and the Lion for some time. When I found it as part of a multi-movie disc I figured that I had two other movies I could watch without changing the disc. Good quality. I was pleased.
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