Roderick Heath 2019 Film Writing.pdf


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The first shot declares Mamoulian‘s obsession with form at war with force, as he looks down a row of
training swordsmen with blades crossed, and throughout the film his camera retreats to vantages with
rectilinear compositions suggesting both the proscenium and the canvas, moments of formalist rigidity
Mamoulian uses to shape his evocation of a bygone spirit. But Mamoulian‘s arty pretences work deftly in
concert with, rather than weighing down, the tight-wound plotting and delicious entertainment value of the
heroic storyline, telling the story of Don Diego Vega (Power), a talented young cavalry officer being
trained in Spain in the late 1700s, depressed when he‘s recalled to his native California by his father
because it means giving up the high life. When Diego left California his father Don Alejandro (Montagu
Love) was the highly respected Alcalde of the region, but upon return he finds mention of the Alcalde
inspires fear and loathing in the locals. Diego soon learns his mistake: his father has been pressured into
resigning and replaced by the nakedly corrupt and tyrannical Don Luis Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg),
who is himself something of a stooge for the ice-eyed cavalier Captain Esteban Pasquale (Basil Rathbone),
the two of them running a coordinated fleecing of the Californian peons in order to finance a stylish return
to the Old World.