Don't Bother · Historical

Cyrano de Bergerac’s Guide to Relationships

cyrano de bergerac jose ferrer
Jose Ferrer as (Cyrano de Bergerac) woos Mala Powers (Roxanne), when he’s not too absorbed in his own speeches.

What do you think about people who love the sound of their own voice? Do you find them fascinating, or do you want to strangle them?

We were thinking about this during a recent screening of Cyrano de Bergerac, the famous story about the big-nosed Parisian who loves a young woman named Roxanne, but cannot find the courage to declare his feelings for her. His fear is out of character because, as we discover, Cyrano is a skilled duelist/swordsman (the best in Paris) and happily rushes into dueling matches anywhere, any time.

Cyrano doesn’t normally suffer self-esteem issues when it comes to his nose. As he says, “I glory in this nose of mine. For a great nose indicates a great man.”

Yet, maybe he has reason to be fearful of Roxanne’s rejection. Cyrano’s nose is the least of his unattractive attributes. He also has an exhaustingly verbose personality.

Example: The movie opens with a stage play, but audience-member Cyrano despises the play’s main actor; he thinks the man completely lacks talent. He interrupts the entire play by stating: “[This actor] mouths his verse and moans his tragedies.” Then he launches into a grand speech about acting, drama, his nose, fashion, philosophy, hypocrisy, society in general, and who wants to step outside and settle this man to man!

José Ferrer, in an Oscar-winning performance, plays Cyrano – an inspired casting choice. Ferrer has the ability to memorize gobs of lines and rattle them off effortlessly, as if memorizing lengthy passages were no big deal. His lines sound like liquid velvet and, for a time, you marvel at his speech-making abilities.

Cyrano does not suffer fools. He is arrogant and a show-off, and would be completely unbearable if it weren’t for that schnoz. “My poor big devil of a nose,” he says, and this, coupled with his determination to help his friends, endears us to him for a while – until our ears wear out.

Cyrano de Bergerac is basically a filmed version of the 1897 “verse drama” by Edmond Rostand, which is based on the life of the real Hercule-Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac. The French released a version in 1950, the same year Hollywood released its drama with as many plumes and oversized collars as you can cram into a single movie. Oh yes, and the talking. Lots and lots of talking.

The movie begins to pick up speed – a little – when Roxanne (Mala Powers) confesses to Cyrano that she’s in love with a young soldier, Christian de Neuvillette (William Prince). She asks Cyrano to look after this boyfriend of hers when they go to battle. Heartbroken Cyrano, ever the gentleman, promises to ensure de Neuvillette’s safety.

Much to Cyrano’s chargrin, however, the young de Neuvillette is without imagination and lacks wit. The poor young slob realizes he is unable to woo Roxanne with his mediocre language skills, so he enlists the aid of Cyrano – he of excessive and flowery language. You likely know the famous plan they hatch, and you’ve probably also wondered why Roxanne, in the dark, cannot tell if Cyrano or her dim-witted boyfriend is speaking to her.

At this point we, the viewers, start to wonder if any of these people are prepared for an actual relationship. No matter! Roxanne loves to hear clever phrases and Cyrano loves to spout ’em, so perhaps they are well suited for each other after all.

As far as movies go, Cyrano de Bergerac is a bit of an endurance test. You’ll find your mind wandering at times, and you’ll start wondering if the size of Cyrano’s nostrils vary from scene to scene.

SPOILER!! Cyrano dies at the end of the film, in Roxanne’s arms, just as she realizes that all the wooing came from Cyrano and not that dullard, de Neuvillette. We feel relieved when Cyrano finally dies, because it means we don’t have to listen to insufferable speech-making anymore.

If you are a fan of José Ferrer, Cyrano de Bergerac is a film you must see, as it netted Ferrer his only Academy Award. It’s worth noting that Ferrer won over William Holden in Sunset Boulevard, James Stewart in Harvey and Spencer Tracy in Father of the Bride.

Cyrano de Bergerac: starring Jose Ferrer, Mala Powers, William Prince. Directed by Michael Gordon. Written by Carl Foreman. United Artists Corp., 1950, B&W, 115 mins.

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24 thoughts on “Cyrano de Bergerac’s Guide to Relationships

  1. I agree that Jose does a good acting job, but I just never become attached to him emotionally. Jimmy Stewart, Spencer Tracy and William Holden are among my very favorite actors and I would much rather have seen the award go to one of them.

    Personally I enjoyed Gerard Depardieu in the role because he has an ability to come off arrogant whenever he chooses. Of course Steve Martin gives it quite a spin too.

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  2. Ruth, I cannot tell a lie (guess that’s why my nose isn’t like Cyrano’s): I’ve always been torn between whether I prefer Jose Ferrer’s version or Steve Martin’s versions of the CYRANO story! 🙂 But you’ve delightfully nailed Cyrano’s gabby tendencies in your witty post! For the record, I happen to be the (relatively) shy one in our family! 🙂 Also, I first saw William Prince in the film noir DEAD RECKONING, so thinking of Prince looking all swashbuckle-y was kind of a hoot. Thanks for another great blog post, my friend!

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    1. I’m not very familiar with William Prince, but I really liked his performance here in “Cyrano”. And Steve Martin’s version is very charming, isn’t it? Thanks for your kind comments.

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  3. I don’t remember seeing the Ferrer version and I think I would have remembered that schnoz. I do remember sitting in a theater to watch Roxanne and thoroughly enjoying it, as I have any number of times since. I guess I should take a peek at the Ferrer version if, for no other reason than to see the performance that beat those of Tracy, Stewart, and Holden for the Oscar.

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    1. Jose Ferrer’s performance is definitely worth seeing. Is it better than those of Tracy, Stewart and Holden? I’m not sure, but he is very skilled at portraying a complex character and being so adept with all the dialogue.

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  4. Hey there! Enjoyed your write-up. Haven’t seen this one yet but it looks interesting (if long-winded).

    To completely change the subject, I have nominated you for the Super Sweet Blogging Award.

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  5. Jose is good in the part, but I agree that the movie could be definitely be better. Although it’s a compelling story, my problem that I always want to yell at Roxanne: “Why are you being so stupid?!” She’s not worth it; Cyrano deserves better!

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  6. I only wanted to watch this film to see how in the world Jose Ferrer beat out William Holden’s “Sunset Boulevard” performance. Alas, I’ll never see why, because I was bored to tears and couldn’t get past the first 15 minutes. I hate it when that happens!

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  7. Ferrer certainly relishes the role, but I must agree with everyone who says the movie is not easy to watch. It feels stage-bound and moves at a snail’s pace. Steve Martin rocks in “Roxanne” — although I haven’t seen the movie since it first came out 🙂

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    1. It’s been a while since I’ve seen “Roxanne”, but I remember it being very charming. As for Ferrer, he does his level best to carry this weighty movie, but even he can’t quite save it.

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  8. Hi Ruth! I haven’t seen this version, but I love the sumptuous 1990 French version with Gerard Depardieu (and of course, have long been a fan of Steve Martin’s ROXANNE). I think Cyrano is a character that needs the proper touch, a combination of larger-than-life bonhomie and poetic soul. No disparagement to Jose Ferrer, a fine actor, but he doesn’t strike me as having the proper warmth to make this character engaging. Great review, BTW!

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    1. I think you’re exactly right, Jeff. While Ferrer has the technical skill to spout off reams of lines, he lacks the charisma of a Gerard Depardieu – who was utterly fabulous in the 1990 French version.

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  9. I remember seeing this in high school because we were reading it in class. Ferrer was unforgettable, but everyone else in the film was totally forgettable. I asked the question then and still ask it today – who was Mala Powers? Who was William Prince? Thanks for a swell review and a trip down memory lane!

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    1. I would recommend it if you’re a big Jose Ferrer fan. If not, I would stick with the parodies.

      However, Gerard Depardieu was in a fabulous 1990 French version. That version could be the best.

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      1. Thank you for the recommendation. I have a question for you that is not related to this post. I hope that is okay. I saw a movie the other day that came on TV and enjoyed it so much. I just wondered if you have seen it. It was called “Chase a Crooked Shadow.” I had never heard of it, and it was so good. I think it was 1958.

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