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Monday, February 1, 2021

"Mourning Becomes Electra" (1947)

Are you game for a lengthy film based on Aeschylus’ tragic Greek “Oresteia” set during Reconstruction? Then this is right up your dramaturgical alley. It’s an interesting stunt that mostly pays off. It was originally the brainchild of playwright Eugene O’Neill for Broadway; this is a truncated, if still protracted exercise in all those symbolic psychological complexes that plague a certain family and their internecine dynamics after the death of the patriarch in wartime. Rosalind Russell and Michael Redgrave—the Electra and Orestes standins— are wonderfully impassioned as the ill-fated brother and sister. Their scenes together are topnotch. That’s the good news. Things go haywire anytime Katina Paxinou, the hell-bent mother steps ins. Of course this is part and parcel of the character, but Paxinou plays her scenes at such an exaggerated fever pitch it crosses over into camp. It’s laugh out loud BAD and you wonder how Russell kept a straight face in their scenes together. So it’s a mixed bag, two thirds great drama, one part guilty pleasure. As for the production itself, it’s a little threadbare, this is not the pleasurable opulence of “Gone With the Wind”, despite the family’s wealth. And the direction by Dudley Nichols is basic, if not overly stagey. As always it’s Russell who’ll you’ll remember.  

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