Cinema: The New Pictures, Aug. 17, 1959

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The Big Fisherman (Centurion Films; Buena Vista) will probably net the biggest box-office catch since The Ten Commandments, despite the fact that it has all the vices and almost none of the homely virtues of the Lloyd C. Douglas novel that inspired it. For oldtime Moviemaker Rowland V. Lee (The Count of Monte Cristo) knows just where the millions lie: in fictionalized history, resplendently costumed, sexed up, and heavily flavored with religion. There are sumptuous orgies in palaces that look like the new banks of Beverly Hills; John the Baptist is beheaded in 70-mm. Panavision, color and stereophonic sound; and "the temptress" (Martha Hyer) moves about murmuring to Herod Antipas, "You thrill my inmost being." There is also the Sermon on the Mount, delivered by an offstage voice in soft-sell tones. There are stabbings, hurricanes, ambushes, chases, the miracles of Christ, racial conflict between Arabs and Jews, one case of polio and a death by charcoal burner.

The bewildering plot runs in and out and on and on. An Arab prince, played with unabashed narcissism by John Saxon, pursues an ebony-eyed half-breed (Susan Kohner) through the three tasteless hours and 14 minutes (with intermission), only to lose her in the end. "Some day I'll find you," he trills after her. And towering woodenly over all the power struggles and polyglot types is big Bass-Baritone Howard Keel, who plays "two-fisted and profane" Simon Peter as if he had never left Carousel.

Novelist Douglas himself dismissed his ludicrous situations and pasteboard characters as "tiresomely decent," and moviegoers might have been spared this whole hodgepodge had the author lived. The year he finished Fisherman, he said: "I'm just an irascible old man who has written a book and wants it to stay a book! I don't want the movies fumbling with it. It's too much for the movies."

The Scapegoat(DuMaurier-Guinness; M-G-M), based on Daphne du Maurier's bestselling 1957 novel, is a half-serious attempt to articulate on film some notions that fascinated the author: "I wanted to discover, for myself, what happened to a man who was no longer himself. Would he, assuming the identity of another, take on the sins and the burdens and the emotions of the [other] or would his own hidden secret self become released in the other's image and so take charge?"

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