Juarez (1939)

Genres - Historical Film  |   Sub-Genres - Biopic [feature]  |   Release Date - Apr 24, 1939 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 135 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

Juarez manages to be a very entertaining and effective historical epic, despite some enormous flaws. Part of its success lies in the fact that -- unlike so many Hollywood attempts to film history -- a great deal of what ends up on the screen is accurate. It helps also, of course, that the historical situation being explored is one that is in and of itself exciting and intriguing. The screenplay doesn't always succeed in capturing this excitement and intrigue totally, due in no small part to the fact that too many people had a hand in writing and shaping it, but individual sequences are excellent and director William Dieterle does a fine job of pulling together its disparate parts and camouflaging the gaps and faults. He is helped greatly by Brian Aherne's excellent performance, which makes Maximilian into a sympathetic and complicated character, as well as by Bette Davis, who sinks her teeth into her juicy mad scene and plays it for all she is worth. Gale Sondergaard and Claude Rains are also effective, both smoothly villainous, but John Garfield is quite miscast. More damaging, however, is Paul Muni whose decision to underplay his role in order to contrast with Davis' histrionics renders Juarez distant, remote, uninvolving, and quite dull. This leaden anchor at its center weakens Juarez, but the film fortunately has enough assets to mitigate the damage.