Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cinema Royals

JUAREZ (1939) Starring Paul Muni, Bette Davis and Brian Aherne is probably the most well known film on the subject of the French intervention in Mexico, Maximilian and Juarez. It is a classic piece from the Golden Age of Hollywood and much more than simply a biopic of Benito Juarez. Paul Muni is the intended star as Benito Juarez but it is Brian Aherne as Emperor Maximilian who steals the show and has the most screen time. Muni balked at this and had more scenes for himself put in but lingering on his wooden portrayal only serves to slow the film down whenever he appears. Despite bending the truth considerably to portray Juarez in a favorable light Emperor Maximilian still comes off as a sympathetic character. Also on hand are John Garfield as General Porfirio Diaz and Donald Crisp as Marshal Achille de Bazaine. Claude Rains delivers a typically brilliant and villainous portrayal as Emperor Napoleon III. The film leaves no doubt as to who the viewer is supposed to be rooting for with a succession of ham-fisted efforts to portray Juarez as a secular saint but the character is so dull and the story of Maximilian and Carlota (played by Bette Davis) is so much more interesting that the film really revolves around them. Bette Davis also offers up a brilliant portrayal of the doomed empress and her descent into madness must stand out as one of her greatest moments on film ever. Those interested in the period cannot afford to overlook this film no matter which side you are on in the republican-monarchist debate.


  1. So much bravery by the French Foreign Legion in that debacle.

    Of all the wars America hinted at, or actually did, their telling of the French to get out of Mexico is in my mind: the worst blunder of the 19th Century. Yes, a European puppet but considering the direction Mexico went in the subsequent years; wouldn't it have been better if the country developed under the steady rule of a true Monarch, and the subsequent accumulation of profitable consumer bases, then a silly banana republic warlord?

    Oh well, to Maximilian and the Hapsburgs...Or do you say it Habsburgs? Curious.

  2. Indeed so; did a post a while back on the battle of Hacienda de Camerone where the Legion first gained its legendary reputation. It may be that the US wanted Mexico to remain poor and chaotic so it would always be weak and dependent on the US rather than a potential threat. Juarez would not have won without the support of the US. As to the spelling, im deutsche sprache es ist Habsburg but in English it is Hapsburg. Just depends on the language you're speaking.


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