With enormous trepidation do I write this review. In this year 2018, surrounded by the mores and mentality currently on display in the former realm of Christendom, how can you explain, never mind, recommend the story of Cyrano de Bergerac? To a generation that embraces Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé and the Kardashians how do you justify Cyrano’s chaste love for Roxane. To a world that needs safe spaces to cower in at the very hint of harsh language how do you explain two men fighting to the death with rapiers over an insult? It’s ludicrous to even consider. The very word honor has ceased to have an explicable meaning.
No, there is no way. This story can only be presented to an older generation. And even to them, watching it would be a jarring exercise in switching gears from the world of Caitlyn Jenner and Hillary Clinton to the chivalry of seventeenth century France. So, I cannot expect any sympathy from a modern audience for such a story. Even when this movie was filmed in 1950 the plot was considered much too sentimental. In fact, the only saving grace it had was the tour de force performance of its star Jose Ferrer. Even critics who savaged the rest of the production including the rest of the cast, declared Ferrer’s portrayal of Cyrano as a masterpiece and his recital of Rostand’s words inspired. And so, they were. Ferrer’s mastery of the material only seems the more convincing compared to the journeyman competence of his fellow cast members.
For those who have read this far but do not know Rostand’s plot, Cyrano is a musketeer in the employ of the King of France in the seventeenth century. He is also a poet and a deadly skilled swordsman. He also possesses a very large nose about which he is devilishly sensitive. One word or even a glance at his nose is enough to trigger a duel from which the offender will exit without his life. And Cyrano is secretly in love with Roxane his distant cousin and one of the most beautiful women in Paris. Because of his relationship with Roxane he is compelled by his sense of honor to help her in whatever she asks. Unfortunately, what she asks him is to help his rival in love to succeed in his courting of Roxane. When Cyrano meets this rival Christian, he discovers that he is unable to string romantic words together in a way that appeals to Roxane. So, Cyrano must become Christian’s coach in writing and speaking poems of love. And finally, when it becomes too difficult, he uses the darkness of night to impersonate Christian under Roxane’s balcony and succeeds in winning her love for Christian with Cyrano’s own passionate declaration of love.
There follow several obstacles, a nobleman as rival to Christian who is also his superior officer in the army and a war with Spain. Marriage, sorrow, misunderstanding and death stand in the way of true love. But revelation finally occurs, if too late to allow for happiness. All of this is brocaded with a script that Ferrer delivers with wit and panache. For a man of the late nineteenth or early to mid-twentieth century it is a treat and for those afterward a puzzle only.
Recommended only for the true sentimental idealist.