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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Sea Gull (1968)

In the Russian countryside of the late 19th century, a famous actress (Simone Signoret) is spending the summer at her brother's (Harry Andrews) country estate. Accompanying her is a minor writer and her latest lover (James Mason) which perturbs her artistic, temperamental son (David Warner) who resents his presence. Anton Chekhov's great play doesn't seem ideal movie material but one is still unprepared for what Sidney Lumet's clumsy directorial hands has done to it. It's like a beautiful cake that once bitten into reveals inferior ingredients. Beautifully shot in Sweden (subbing for Mother Russia) by Gerry Fisher with impeccable production design and costumes by Tony Walton (MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS), Lumet directs it like a soap opera and without a trace of the subtle Chekhovian wit. As for misguided miscasting of the French Signoret as a Russian (all the other Russians are played by Brits except for Kathleen Widdoes' Masha), her lack of command of the English language makes her unable to say Chekhov's lines with any degree of shading. Some of the performances are good. James Mason makes for an affecting if uneven Trigorin, Widdoes gets Masha's melancholia down pat, Alfred Lynch's sheepish Medvedenko is rather touching and best of all Vanessa Redgrave makes for a magnificent Nina. Others in the cast: Denholm Elliott, Eileen Herlie and Ronald Radd.

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