Thursday, July 23, 2015

433 Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Running Time: 197 minutes
Directed By: David Lean
Written By: Robert Bolt, from novel by Boris Pasternak
Main Cast: Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Rod Steiger, Alec Guinness, Geraldine Chaplin
Click here to view the trailer

Note: Have I mentioned I've recently developed a fondness for thrift shops? My wife and I frequent a decent sized thrift shop in Morgantown, WV - home of WVU and the Mountaineers (Go 'Eers!) and I've taken to traveling there once a month or so and stocking up on paperbacks (which recently went from a buck a bag to a dime a piece). I own a Kindle and all, but I just love perusing through bin after bin of paperbacks, picking some up simply because they LOOK good, knowing nothing about them. Anyway, I snapped a picture of a little gem I found there this past week. I didn't buy it because I already have it on my computer and I don't have a great working VCR, but a few years back I'd have been ALL OVER THIS!

RIP OMAR SHARIF: 1932 - 2015

Omar Sharif passed away a few weeks ago and as soon as I saw his picture on my USA Today news feed, I immediately recalled one summer when me and my wife sat down to take in "Zhivago". More on that story later...

"Zhivago" is one of those "sweeping epics" that clocks in at about three hours and ten minutes and covers a lot of ground during it runtime. The film is told entirely in flashback, starting with a young Yuri Zhivago, who is orphaned when his mother dies, when he's very young. Yuri goes to live with his mother's best friend, her husband and their daughter, Tonya. Grown up, Zhivago (Sharif) now has aspirations of being a general practitioner and later, becomes engaged to Tonya, whom he fell in love after all those years. Meanwhile, there's also Lara Antipov (Christie), who's boyfriend is Pasha, a revolutionary. Later, V.I. Komarovsky (Steiger), a well connected Russian, takes an interest in Lara and later rapes her, making her his girlfriend. This revelation leaves Lara's mother stunned, since she had hopes of marrying Komarovsky herself and she tries to kill herself. This is when Zhivago and Lara first lay eyes on each other - Zhivago assisting the doctor, who rushes to Lara's mother's aid. Eventually war breaks out and Zhivago & his family are forced out of their house. It's around this time that Zhivago meets his brother, General Yevgraf Zhivago (Guinness), who instructs Zhivago and family to flee to Gromeko, where they'll be far away from trouble and the new shift in power. Zhivago obliges and one day, while at the library, notices Lara. The two begin an affair...I feel like that's plenty to get you started, as there's just so much ground to cover here and I could go on for days, plot summary wise.

I'll never forget my first apartment. No one will, right? The one thing I really remember about my our first apartment ("our" as in, me and my wife, of course) is that it was dreadfully hot. We moved in on June 24, 2007 and the place wasn't air conditioned. Despite the fact that I hate the heat, I loved literally everything else about the apartment, not to mention the experience of being a newlywed, going grocery shopping for myself for the first time, decorating OUR OWN PLACE, it was all so wonderful. Anyway - I'm rambling. During that summer of 2007, my wife and I made a decision one day to start chipping away at the IMDB Top 250 list. We printed it and decided to go from 250 to 1, watching in order. Dr. Zhivago was something like #247. It was a miserably hot, August day and we had rented Dr. Zhivago from the library and decided to spend a Sunday off taking it in. We weren't particularly excited to see it, but really, we didn't know what to expect. Long story short, we hated it. It became that movie that we'd always reference whenever we saw a long or boring or just plain bad movie - "Hey, at least it's no Zhivago" or "It could be worse, remember Zhivago?". It was THAT movie for us, for so long. In fact, when I first bought THE BOOK and made the decision to watch my way through it, one of my "do I really wanna do this" moments came when I realized that I'd have to watch "Dr. Z" again. Perhaps it was the heat that got to us that hot, August day, but it just goes to show you, this is why you always give a bad movie one more chance to impress.

Yes, this time I actually really enjoyed Dr. Zhivago. It surprised me even more considering last week, I watched Lawrence of Arabia to my utter disdain and that the two movies were directed by Lean. To say I dreaded Zhivago going in, would be a gross understatement. However, I still went in with an open mind and it was once again the photography of Freddie Young which got me to dip a toe in. Before long I was doing dog paddles in the cinematic sea that is Dr. Zhivago! Sure, I wouldn't go so far as to call it perfect (not yet), as the history stuff still threw me (in case you're new, my attention to films about history that I'm unfamiliar with....well, it isn't good), but all in all, I'd call it a VAST improvement over my initial impressions. No longer can I or will I reference "Zhivago" when trying to find an adjective to describe a bad film. Perhaps when trying to describe a beautiful film? "Well, the photography was great, but it was no Dr. Z!".

It's funny, because as I was checking into this movie on the various sites I frequent (IMDB, iCheckmovies, etc.), I noticed a lot of people saying that this was tougher to endure than "Lawrence". I found my opinion to be the exact opposite. This was a cinch to tackle, especially compared to the almost impossible to get through Lawrence of Arabia. While "Lawrence" is one that nearly required toothpicks to hold up the eyelids, "Zhivago" is one where I was hesitant to blink, for fear that I'd miss the next breathtaking frame a la Freddie Young. Or perhaps I'd miss yet another cheesecake shot of Julie Christie, her beautiful blue eyes, her luxurious blonde hair framing her face perfectly. I think I'd have to put Julie Christie in the TOP 5 on a list of "Actresses who I barely knew going into THE BOOK, but now LOVE!". The whole cast was really fine, from Sharif to Courtenay, but one that I'd have to point out particularly would be Rod Steiger. It's baffling to me how good he is and I sincerely want to see the rest of his filmography sooner, rather than later. To think that Komarovsky and Sgt. Gillespie ("In the Heat of the Night") are THE SAME PERSON is just unbelievable to me. There are literally no traces of one, in the other. In fact, even though I KNEW that Steiger played alongside Sidney Poitier in In the Heat of the Night, I actually questioned that fact as I watched him perform in Dr. Zhivago. It takes fine actor to completely eliminate any previously seen roles from the audiences mind and put on an entirely NEW show, no reminisces of their former selves.

Anyway, I'll wrap by preaching, once again, to please always give movies two chances. A movie you hated yesterday, may one day become your favorite (and vice versa, really). Thanks to THE BOOK, I've come to see the greatness in movies like Dr. Zhivago and Requiem for a Dream, two movies I once hated, did complete 180's on and now love. It's a beautiful film, with a gorgeous leading lady and a fine cast all around, all, I think, fully aware that they're in something that's going to make big bucks and win big awards, therefore all are ready to turn in performances that will get them recognized. And even though David Lean and I didn't see eye to eye, as I watched my way through THE BOOK, it was Dr. Zhivago that made me wish Hollywood had more directors like Lean. David Lean is someone who you can see REALLY cared about the movies he put out. He wanted to make the best picture possible, using all of his natural abilities, send the audience home happy. The word "grandeur" comes to mind. It's talents like David Lean who make me wish there really was a fountain of youth. We could really use Lean (with photographers like Freddie Young by his side) to continue telling stories that shaped the history of the world - to tell us about revolutions and uprisings, downfalls and tragedies, world changing events and life altering tales. Despite never giving one of his films a rating higher than an '8', I still look forward to seeing the rest of Lean's filmography and I'll go on wishing that more director's like him come along, wishing that more director's like him would have never gone...

RATING: 7/10  WOW, that was a lot of writing and a lot of praise for a simple '7', but bear with me. The film went from a '1' to a '7' in one viewing, so that's actually a huge improvement.


July 23, 2015  5:35pm


  1. MMmmm Intersting.
    I defended 'Lawrence' against your posting that it was boring .. and far too long. Now I find myself throwing the same sort of accusations at this one. Sorry, I was seriously bored through this.
    Oh yes, all of what you say about 'grandure' is true.. superb looking sequences, magnificent cinematography .. but...somehow for me it failed to gell into something I could enjoy.
    Oh well....

    1. So perhaps there are "Lawrence" people and "Zhivago" people, but no one who likes both? I doubt it, but maybe...

  2. Lean was a skilled director. I just feel sometimes he should get to the point a bit quicker. He and I just don't always agree on what makes for interesting subject matter. Anyways, I pretty much agree with your rating on this film. Good review.

    1. Agreed about the subject matter. I could've easily gone a full '10' on this, had the subject been something more up my alley.


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