Weighs a ton, thanks to meddling Muni's obsessive hand in the screenplay. The effective casting lacks spark, save two firebrand ladies: Davis and Sondergaard, the latter stoking the cauldron and the former jumping in. Benito Pablo Juarez was to Mexico what Abraham Lincoln was to the
United States. Both of them lived at the same time, and Juarez was profoundly influenced by the North American president. Like Lincoln, Juarez was physically homely, yet full of wisdom and spiritual clarity that was irresistible to his people.
The film opens with Rains, playing the evil Napoleon III, appointing Aherne (Archduke Maximilian von Habsburg of Austria) emperor of Mexico. Through his agents in Mexico, Rains has set up a fake election by which Aherne has been chosen the monarch of a people he has never seen. Aherne and wife
Davis (Carlotta) journey to Mexico, escorted by an army commanded by Crisp. Meeting the royal couple are thousands of jubilant peasants in Mexico City, but the royal couple is again deceived by the insidious French, who have staged the reception.
The duly elected president of Mexico, Muni (Juarez), leads his people in revolt against the monarchs imposed upon Mexico by Rains. To mollify the people Aherne offers Muni the powerful position of Secretary of State, but he rejects it. Undaunted, Aherne believes that he can unite the Mexican
people by adopting a native prince in an elaborate ceremony. Yet, when they take their new son to the balcony of their palace to show to their ostensibly adoring subjects, a tremendous explosion rocks the area. Juaristas have just blown up a huge ammunition dump of the French army. So enraged by
this "slap" is Aherne that he signs the shoot-to-kill order for those found with weapons. Wholesale executions ensue, and soon even those who have paid homage to Aherne and Davis turn against the monarchy. A full-scale revolution breaks out, with the US ordering the French army to leave Mexico
under the Monroe Doctrine.
JUAREZ was unique in that it was shot as two separate films--first the Aherne-Davis story, then the Muni portion; both stories were then edited together. Muni only meets Aherne when viewing his corpse, and even this scene is spliced together. Muni had the benefit of viewing the edited first
portion of the film before going in front of the cameras to play Juarez and, to offset the Davis histrionics, he underplayed his role almost down to a whisper. Muni was afforded the privilege since he was then the most important actor on the Warner lot. But despite studying hundreds of books,
documents and photographs of his subject, and spending six weeks visiting the areas where Juarez lived, worked and administered to his infant republic, the resulting portrayal proved unsuitable to a long epic film, slowing the ponderous drama to a crawl.
Davis has only a small role but one she coveted when the project was first begun in 1937. She knew she would have one fantastic scene where Carlotta goes mad after confronting the scheming Rains and she played it to the hilt; this sequence is a classic, and Davis's descent from the emperor is like
watching a candle dim, flicker and go out. She is matched by Sondergaard's velvety villany and this meeting portends their eventual collaboration on THE LETTER.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Weighs a ton, thanks to meddling Muni's obsessive hand in the screenplay. The effective casting lacks spark, save two firebrand ladies: Davis and Sondergaard, the latter stoking the cauldron and the former jumping in. Benito Pablo Juarez was to Mexico what… (more)