PEER GYNT (1941)
Article 2272 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-11-2007
Posting Date: 11-1-2007
Directed by David Bradley
Featuring Charlton Heston, Betty Hanisee, Mrs. Hubert Hyde
A ne’er-do-well romances the women, defeats a mountain king, and travels around the world, leaving his true love behind.
The novelty value of this one is immense. Here’s a quick rundown of what is novel about it.
1) It features Charlton Heston’s first screen appearance.
2) It’s based on a play written by Henrik Ibsen, the Norwegian playwright who pioneered theatrical realism. Incidentally, this was one of the plays he wrote before he turned to realism, and is most likely the only one with enough fantastic elements (the mountain king sequence) to get included in this series. At least two other movie versions were made previous to this one, but those have remained elusive.
3) It was directed by David Bradley, who would hit a career peak with his next movie (JULIUS CAESAR), and then settle down to give us 12 TO THE MOON and THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN.
4) It was shot as an amateur movie on 16mm as a (mostly) silent movie; all but a few of the lines of dialogue are on title cards.
5) The music is by Grieg. It’s the score he originally wrote at Ibsen’s request for the 1876 stage production of “Peer Gynt”. You’ll recognize much of the music, especially the famous “In the Hall of the Mountain King”.
Judged as an amateur film, it is excellent and ambitious. However, since it is an amateur film, it does have some problems. It was shot in Illinois and Wisconsin, and it works all right when it’s trying to pass its location off as Norway, but less well when it passes itself off as Morocco. Charlton Heston (who was 17 at the time) definitely had that cinematic charisma even at this time, though he’s a lot more effective near the beginning of the movie when he’s playing his own age than he is playing much older. The cast was mostly made up of non-professionals, but overall they pass muster. Ultimately, the biggest problem I had with the movie is that the story itself isn’t very engaging; to me, it felt unfocused and overly episodic, and the fact that the character of Peer Gynt isn’t very likable makes it that much more difficult to warm up to. Still, as I said before, the novelty value is immense.