By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Three Beers) –
It is the 1880’s and the Sudan is under threat by Muhammad Ahmed (Laurence Olivier). Ahmed is a religious fanatic who sees himself as the prophesied redeemer of Islam, the “Mahdi”. Ahmed commands a large army of followers with the intent of capturing the city of Khartoum, which sits at the confluence of the Blue and White Nile rivers, and are not that thing on television that your retarded cousin likes to watch.
“Spunchpob and Gary watch cartooms!”
After an Egyptian contingent lead by retired British Colonel William Hicks is massacred, public demonstrations within Great Britain prompt the government to send General Charles “Chinese” Gordon (Charlton Heston) to Khartoum to oversee the evacuation of European and Egyptian nationals, and to prepare the city for the impending siege. Gordon is a Christian Evangelist, with a spiritualist streak, who is absolute in his resolve, and less-so with orders. When it becomes clear that the Mahdi’s Army has cut off any chance of an evacuation, Gordon defies his government and stays on to command the city’s defense.
Charlton Heston is an actor whose legacy is that of epic films, and even more epic overacting. An experienced theater player prior to his film career, he never seemed to shake the need to “Act Big”. Fortunately in this epic he plays down his more eccentric side, in favor of a fairly measured performance. Of course he does get some good chances to exercise his oratory skills, but these moments are nowhere near the over the top sequences audiences have come to expect.
Are there Ape-Furries? *googles* ohshitwhydidIdothat
… I do this in protest…
As far as big-budgeted epics go, this one is definitely unique, especially for the time. It covers a part of history I’m ashamed to say I knew little to nothing about, and it definitely piqued my interest. There are several themes which dominate the film, the first being that of vanity. The British government sends Gordon to Khartoum in order to salvage their image in the public’s eyes. And that of Gordon, who sees himself as the “smartest man in the room” at all times. Gordon was chosen because of his previous success in the Sudan destroying the slave trade, and he sees himself as the only one capable of victory.
This all changes however, after Gordon speaks with the Mahdi, and realizes he has met his true match. Like Gordon the Mahdi is a true believer, totally committed to his own cause, and the Mahdi’s army are devout followers. Gordon on the other hand is contending with dissent and outright betrayal at every turn. Another highlight are the battle sequences, which are massive and well-shot affairs, which highlight the brutality of the combat and the desperate struggle for survival, while not being over-long.
One of the problems which plagues so many large-scale films of the 50’s-60’s is in the sometimes ungainly pacing. The film is bookended by wholly unnecessary narrative segments which reveal little of importance that isn’t already depicted. The filmmakers clearly didn’t trust their audience to figure things out for themselves. Also, there are some sequences in the second act that could have been left on the cutting-room floor, many of which serve less to build character or suspense, and more to pad the running time. Still, at two hours and fifteen minutes, it does move along quite well in the opening act, and boasts one of the most concise and poignant climaxes in film history. While their school of acting has long since become overshadowed by “method”, it is simply satisfying to see Olivier and Heston sparring with each other on screen. They are true Ninja Masters… of acting…
I have to address the elephant in the room. While Sir Laurence Olivier is a great actor, the age of the film is definitely felt in the heavy use of blackface makeup employed on him, and nearly every other major North-African character in the movie. Senegalese actor Johnny Sekka (Roots: The Next Generation) is the only African actor with a significant speaking part, and he was sadly restricted to the role of Gordon’s servant. Olivier does give a strong performance, but still…
What the fuck, Hollywood?
While not on the same level of excellence as other epics from the mid 60’s, like Lawrence of Arabia and Zulu, I think that you’ll find this a very watchable “afternoon with 2 hours to kill” movie. Put it on your Netflix queue.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every speech about religion
Take a Drink: for each Muslim character played by a white dude in blackface
Drink a Shot: when Gordon is called “Chinese”