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.