"Alexander is many things: he's logic, he's dreams; he's warrior, and he's poet; he's man, and he's spirit; he's your son, but he's also hers; and he believes himself to be a god."
Though Robert Rossen only directed ten films within a fourteen year span, his work within diverse genres resembles plays maximized by the cinematographic and editorial touches of film.
The theme of megalomania, so beautifully captured in Rossen's 1949 Oscar-winning film "All The King's Men," is further examined here through the political power struggles that characterized the meteoric career of Alexander the Great, liberator of the Greek states from Persian aggression, and conqueror of Asian and European lands.
Rossen focuses on the power struggles between Alexander's mother - constantly shoring up the lad's ego and sense of unwavering divinity - and his father, Philip of Macedonia. Even after assuming his father's role as leader and warrior, Alexander perpetually struggles to distance himself from Philip's more enduring legacy, and much of the film consists of lengthy dialogues between powerful minds that wielded such immense and brutal power, yet enabled followers to develop a greater sense of nationhood, and cultural pride.
Shot on location in Spain, Robert Krasker's cinematography is a gorgeous blend of tightly composed wide images, and doesn't suffer from the stilted character framing that often beset early CinemaScope movies. The medium close-ups are still affected by periodic cases of CinemaScope "mumps" (a slight lenticular distortion that visibly fattens and smooshes the heads of actors), but the muted, pastel colours give the film a unique look that shows off period décor, and saves more primary colours for the film's sparse but sprawling battle scenes with the invading Persians. (Richard Burton's curly blonde hair, however, coupled with the actor's theatrical largess, takes some acclimatization during the first hour.)
MGM's transfer is first-rate, and though Mario Nascimbene's primal score always sounded muddy on the soundtrack albums, the music and effects are often more dynamic than the dialogue tracks. (Note: Richard Burton's final words might demand a replay with subtitles, as the original stereo mix isn't kind to soft voices. Heavy British and Welsh accents - particular a wasted Stanley Baker - also seem a wee out of place in ancient Athens...)
Like a recent spate of documentaries and bio specials, this underrated attempt to dramatize a legendary conqueror is timed to ride the wave of attention given to Oliver Stone's 2004 epic, and does a good job in tracing the youthful conqueror's career without bombast and endless action scenes.
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan