Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966)

Don Sharp directs this hugely entertaining movie based on the script by Anthony Hinds that certainly doesn't aim for historical accuracy, but captures the sheer overpowering charisma and presence of a legendary figure from the past.

The main man is played by Christopher Lee, in a performance positively brimming with electric energy, menace and a lust for life and all its earthly pleasures (to be admitted to in confession). Finding himself unpopular after an incident of self-defence gone awry, despite his healing hands, Rasputin moves from his abbey and looses himself on some fine Russians, manipulating and controlling those who can help him manoeuvre into a position of power. A position that could see him ultimately controlling all of mother Russia from behind the scenes.

Anyone wanting the facts about the extraordinary life of Grigori Rasputin should not be using this movie as any kind of primer. This film is not an account of a reality, by any stretch of the imagination, but it captures the essence of an infamous individual. To roughly phrase a popular saying . . . . "between the truth and the legend, print the legend".

The cast are all great, and familiar to many from Hammer movies and elsewhere. This is Lee's show all the way but we also get very good performances from the likes of Barbara Shelley, Suzan Farmer and Richard Pasco, who stands out as the put-upon Dr. Zargo.

The direction may be unspectacular but that's not really a major concern when the look of the finished movie is so pleasing and the focus remains on the towering presence of Lee, whether he's hypnotising unwitting ladies or dancing some magnificent, frenetic, Russian dancing. It's a bravado performance that picks up the entire movie and carries it over the finish line as a winner.



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