(director: David Lean; screenwriters: Robert Bolt/from the book Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak; cinematographer: Freddie Young; editor: Norman Savage; music: Maurice Jarre; cast: Omar Sharif (Yuri Zhivago), Julie Christie (Lara), Tom Courtenay (Pasha Strelnikov), Rod Steiger (Komarovsky), Geraldine Chaplin (Tonya), Alec Guinness (Yevgrat Zhivago), Siobhan McKenna (Anna Gromeko), Ralph Richardson (Alexander Gromeko), Rita Tushingham (The Girl), Adrienne Corri (Lara’s Mother);runtime: 197; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Carlo Ponti; MGM; 1965)
“Fails to excite the imagination.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
David Lean’s epic love story is based on the complex Nobel Prize-winning novel by Boris Pasternak (he refused to accept the award). Robert Bolt authors the script. The massive novel is eviscerated into pulp, as it focuses entirely on a vacuous romantic story–trying without success to be another Gone With The Wind. Bolt unwisely chooses the soap opera ill-fated romance featured as an explanation for the Russian Revolution. Doctor Zhivago covers the years preceding, during and following the Russian Bolshevik Revolution (that includes WW1). It’s seen through the eyes of long-suffering intellectual poet/doctor Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif). The film carries on endlessly (or at least for over three hours) with broken-hearted Zhivago preoccupied mostly about the elusive love of his life. The courtly Zhivago is also concerned over his exile for writing poetry and being forced into partisan service.
Zhivago is caught in a love triangle, married to aristocratic Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin), but later falling in love with the reactionary Lara (Julie Christie). Lara is a nurse who has been raped by ruthless bourgeois politician Komarovsky (Rod Steiger), and has been a former lover of cunning Communist revolutionary Pasha Strelnikov (Tom Courtenay). The story is narrated by Zhivago’s half brother Yevgraf (Alec Guinness), who is an austere Soviet engineer trying to discover whether a Russian working girl (Rita Tushingham) is the lost daughter of Lara and Zhivago — now long dead. Yevgraf and the revenge-seeking Strelnikoff (Tom Courteney) are used as symbols for the “good” and “evil” elements of the Bolshevik revolution.
This visually stunning epic looks like a Hallmark picture postcard. Otherwise the film fails to excite the imagination, or for that matter the story is so muddled in subplots that it no longer makes sense. The acting was poor, as the leading stars were miscast. Only Steiger and Courtenay seem comfortable in their roles. Sharif didn’t seem like the genius poet Pasternak envisioned, but more like an ordinary man turning out superficial postcard-like jingles on a whim. It’s a painfully long and slow haul; tedium soon sets in and never leaves. Though Lean creates a fairly respectable “middle-brow” work for the masses, it is no substitute for the novel. Most of the intelligence seems to have melted away in favor of set-pieces (feeling more Hollywood than Pasternak’s steppes), even if the snowy fields look solid and the beautiful scenery makes for a good watch.
Doctor Zhivago won five Oscars for best adapted screenplay (Robert Bolt), cinematography (Freddie Young), art direction-set decoration (John Box, Terry Marsh, and Dario Simoni), costume design (Phyllis Dalton), and music score (Maurice Jarre). The best picture Oscar went to The Sound of Music.
REVIEWED ON 5/4/2004 GRADE: C