Tuesday, December 1, 2009

You have to love casting of historical movies

TCM is showing a night of movies about explorers tonight, starting at 8:00 PM ET with The Far Horizons, a movie about the Lewis and Clark expedition. Now, I have to admit that I haven't seen the movie before, and so can't comment much on it, but the casting looks hilarious: Fred MacMurray gets top billing as Meriwether Lewis. (Clark is played by Charlton Heston, who had played other historical figures in his career, notably Andrew Jackson in The President's Lady, and wasn't that bad playing Jackson.) If MacMurray is bad enough, consider that their Indian guide, Sacajawea, is played by... Donna Reed. Yikes.

There are lots of bad casting decisions out there, with historical movies being a good source for such miscasting. If you get the chance to see the Fox movie The Virgin Queen (about Elizabeth I of England) or Esther and the King (about the Old Testament book of Esther and ancient Persia), you can see in both movies... Joan Collins. I've also mentioned Cary Grant before, complete with dreadful wig, in the Revolutionary War movie The Howards of Virginia.

Of course, there are actors who were fine doing historical movies. Spencer Tracy showed up last week as the captain of the Mayflower in Plymouth Adventure, and was quite good in it. He also does pretty good work in the Revolutionary War movie Northwest Passage.

Charles Laughton, however, might be the best of the classic era actors when it comes to historical work. He was outstanding as Henry VIII in The Private Life of Henry VIII, did a good job as Rembrandt, and was even an enjoyable Emperor Nero in The Sign of the Cross. Never mind what might be his most famous role, as Capt. Bligh in the 1935 version of Mutiny on the Bounty.

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