On Guard

February, 2003, Thriller

Directed by:Arch Heath

Starring:Cullen Landis and Muriel Kingston

Remember swashbucklers? Ronald Colman dueling Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in The Prisoner of Zenda? Burt Lancaster utilizing his circus training so wonderfully in The Crimson Pirate or the suave Louis Hayward's dazzling dual role as Louis XIV & his heroic twin brother Philippe in Man in the Iron Mask? Well, as the announcer of the old  "Lone Ranger" radio show used to say, "return with us now to those exciting days of yesteryear"…

The wildly romantic French director Phillippe de Broca, (That Man from Rio, King of Hearts) brings back a genre in sad decline since Richard Lester's boisterous 1973 remake of The Three Musketeers. Nearing 70, de Broca wisely relies on the brilliant French star Daniel Auteuil, (Jean de Florette, Girl on the Bridge) rarely seen in the U.S. outside the art-house circuit. He combines wonderfully comic grandeur with naïve wholesomeness as Lagardere, professional swordsman, cagey master of disguise and loyal friend to the Duc de Nevers. These two take each others measure early in the film's action and then proceed to slice and dice their way through half of France in a story with all the requisite ingredients; chicanery, mistaken identity, damsels in distress and plots against the crown. De Broca and Auteuil deliver all this in time-honored fashion--lots of swordplay, heaving female bosoms, unspeakable villainy and victory snatched from certain disaster in the final reel. 

It would be both pointless and cruel to detail the plot, for one of the director's great contribution to this gorgeous escapism is his patience; he never rushes his story line, spreading its 2 hour and 8 minute running time so lucidly the audience always understands precisely how one improbable incident necessarily fits with those that have preceded it. A dash of sophisticated Gallic sex, a breathtakingly adorable heroine (Marie Gillain) and a performance from Auteuil which deftly balances comedic humor with the requisite heroism his character requires; here's a delightful way to spend a couple of hours in the dark. 

America's current crop of MTV-raised, 30-second television commercial auteurs could do a lot worse than taking lessons from this master storyteller at the peak of his powers. 

One final question about what gets shown in American movies theaters; this film was made and released in Paris 5 years ago; why has it taken so long to reach our shores?  

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