I watched about 2/3 of the 1957 movie The Pride and the Passion on TV yesterday. (I missed the middle of it.) It’s a good example of something I meant to make more clear in this post; to wit, that some of the old epic movies were not really very good. It’s easy to romanticize the old era as nothing but great epics, but there were a lot of bad ones as well.
The film is set during the Napoleonic wars. Cary Grant plays a British officer, who is helping some Spanish guerrilla fighters transport a giant cannon to attack a French fort. The main guerrilla leaders are played by Frank Sinatra and Sophia Loren. A solid cast on paper, but Sinatra is awful. According to the Wikipedia page, he really had no interest in the film. There’s some chemistry between Grant and Loren, for good reasons, but her acting is otherwise quite wooden. Grant does a good job, but his character is weak.
It was directed by Stanley Kramer, who I understand was a very well-respected filmmaker. I’ve only actually seen one of his films, Judgement at Nuremberg, which I remember as having interesting dialogue and an incredibly good cast, but being staged rather like a stage play. (Perhaps inevitably, since it was basically a courtroom drama.)
Pride and Passion is a very dull and stiff movie, with lots of scenes of a huge mob of extras wandering through the barren countryside, dragging the huge gun. These scenes are punctuated by scenes of them having to hide themselves and the giant siege gun from French soldiers, and of course for Loren to do things like perform Spanish dances or bathe in the river while Sinatra and Grant quarrel with each other.
The movie made a lot of gross revenue, but it still lost money because the cost was so high. And that’s the crux of it: epic war movies are like Massively Multiplayer Online games: they can’t just do well–they have to be wild successes that make record-breaking amounts of money.