ALEXANDER THE GREAT
US, 1955, 135 minutes, Colour.
Richard Burton, Fredric march, Claire Bloom, Danielle Darrieux, Barry Jones.
Directed by Robert Rossen.
Alexander the Great is an intelligent spectacle written, produced and directed by Robert Rossen, the director of such films as his Oscar-winning All the Kings Men, They Came to Cordura, The Hustler. Richard Burton, in his young vigorous days, gives his eloquence and presence to the character of Alexander. Fredric March, disguised by beard and dark hair, is a vigorous Phillip of Macedon. Claire Bloom heads a very large supporting cast of English and Spanish actors. Danielle Darrieux, the French actress, is unusual casting as Olympias. The film is spectacular, photographed in Spain, with action sequences and a resounding score. Rossen used history books, the speeches of the Athenian orators, and various historical documents for an authentic portrait of Alexander. At times the film runs to the lavish spectacular; at other times it tries to probe the character and the influences on the man who created a huge world empire and was called great, even though he died so young.
1. The interest and appeal of the historical spectacular? The impact of the character of Alexander the Great, his reputation, audience knowledge of him? In what, historically, is his greatness meant to consist of? The film's insights into his greatness?
2. Comment on the appropriateness of the epic treatment: Cinemascope, colour, Spanish locations for Macedonia and Persia, the large cast, the battle sequences and their editing, the cast of thousands?
3. The choice of Richard Burton to portray Alexander the Great? The quality of his presence, his interpretation of Alexander, his eloquence and diction? The comparison with Fredric March as Phillip? The strong English supporting cast and their diction and eloquence for making the events and the situations credible?
4. Reviewers commented on the literate script. How literate did the script seem? How authentic? In comparison with popular historic epics? An atmosphere of authenticity? A cinematic presentation and interpretation of Alexander? The writer-director's attitude of admiration towards Alexander, critique of his attitudes and behaviour? The impressiveness of his achievement?
5. Response to the structure of the film: the first part with its focus on Phillip and the flashbacks from Demosthenes' speeches in Athens? An historical glance back at the career and impact of Phillip? The situating of Alexander in the life of his parents and Phillip's achievement? The second part with the emergence of Alexander, the death of his father, his exploits and building of an empire?
6. How interesting a portrait of Phillip of Macedon? How well rounded, insights into the complexity of his character? Was he a great man? His being presented as a conqueror, always seen in the company of his associates and advisors, his skill in the battles? As a Macedonian and considered a barbarian by the Athenians? His response to the birth of his son? His expectations of his son? His absences from his kingdom? The nature of his ambitions, the uniting of Greek forces, the conquering of Persia? His relationship with Olympias? Her coolness towards him? His suspicions the tendency towards frenzy and madness? His taunting his opponents especially his wife, even his son? His reaction to Alexander's sparing his life? His dancing at the victory over Athens and chanting "Phillip the barbarian"? The motives for casting aside Olympias, marrying Eurydice? Her children? His arbitrarily ruling, how much of a tyrant? His antagonism towards Alexander and Olympias? His making his son Regent and respecting what he did? His exiling his friends to make him powerless? Did he bring on his own death by his attitudes? What kind of man was Phillip? Was his achievement credible?
7. The portrait of his generals, the wise general, Attalus and his impulsive violence especially against Alexander? Their advice, their presence, their advice later for Alexander?
8. How mysterious a person was Olympias? The report of her attitudes towards Alexander's birth with its omens and her thinking him a god? The superstitious background? Her cold response to Phillip? The atmosphere of intrigue, of hedonism at her court? Her being portrayed in long shot at the pillars of the temple? Her hold over her son? Her intriguing and the sequence of her persuading Pausanias to kill Phillip? The influence over Alexander throughout his life?
9. The place of Aristotle at the Macedonian court? His personality, the great philosopher, his training of Alexander, his assessment of his experience? His comment on Alexander's short life? His speeches about empire, Greek culture and its being imposed on the barbarian Persians? His final comment about the achievement of man at the end of the film?
10. How full was the portrait of Alexander himself? His introduction to the film and the background of his childhood, devotion of his mother, expectations of his father? His early training in intelligence studies with Aristotle military training in the barracks? His early successes in diplomacy, battle? His vigorous style and presence?
11. The portrait of the Athenians and the decisive battle against them? The orators and their hostility towards Phillip as a barbarian? The attitude towards defeat? The portrait of Memnon and his hostility? his later refusal to support Alexander's initial encounter with his wife Barsine? Her response to him and the irony of her having to go into exile?
12. How realistic was the dream of Greece conquering Asia? The memory of the 5th century confrontations with Persia and the defeats? The visual presentation of the maps and the progress of the Greek armies? Aristotle's speeches urging them to conquer barbarian lands, the war-mongering aspects of the Greeks, dream of empire and their definitions of glory? The cultural imperialism?
13. The build up of the assembly of the army to invade Persia? How well did the film communicate the plan, the visual impact of the invasion, the magnitude of the armies and their battles and destruction, the importance of the siege of Miletus and its destruction? Alexander's humanity and inhumanity? His attack on the exiled Athenians? The confrontation with Barsine and her antagonism? The aftermath and his taking her to himself? The irony of the lovemaking, his first glimpse of her in the morning, her turning on him?
14. The presentation of the Persian court? Darius and his empire, his personality and weakness, the fact that his army could turn against him? As a Hen afraid? Memnon and his presence and interpretation of Alexander's strategies?
15. The film's focus on the battle of Sousa? As a focus for the significance of Alexander's achievement? The long vigil sequence and the long shot of the city, the Persian strategies with its noise and readiness for battle and yet their puzzle with the Greeks? The comparison of Darius's vigil with that of Alexander? The eclipse and Alexander's shrewd interpretation of the omen favourably? The build-up to the fighting, the Greeks' skill especially with the Persian chariots? The strategy of killing Darius, his fleeing? Alexander's taking his palace. encountering his family? The death of Darius and Alexander speaking with him and hearing his bequeathing Roxanne to him and the desire to blend empires?
16. The role of Barsine In her relationship with Alexander? Wealth and admiration, her telling the truth? Echoing his thoughts? Her love for him, her presence at the banquet? Her rivalry with Roxanne? The violent impulse and leading the women to burn the palace? Alexander's drunken reaction? The confrontation with her and his acclamation of himself as god leading to empire?
17. The portrayal of Alexander's progress e.g. the scene of the charge of the Gordian Knot? The ambitions to India? Achievement and yet overextending himself? Plague and hunger and thirst, defeat? How was this symbolized in his violent reaction to Clitus and his impulsive killing of him? The significance of Clitus' death and Alexander remembering the various deaths in his life?
18. Alexander and his self-estimation, as a god? His reverence for the gods? In what way did his mind turn at the end of his life? What motivated him for empire? Was Barsine right in her comments on his measuring up to Phillip's expectations? The visual memories of Phillip and their effect on Alexander? Barsine's interpretation of the role of his mother?
19. His illness and the build-up to Alexander's death? His bequeathing his empire to the strongest? What had he achieved?
20. Themes of ancient culture, the Greeks and their heritage, ambition, empire, success and achievement? And the irony of death and what was to show for all the endeavour and success?