Cast & Crew
King Philip of Macedonia embarks on relentless brutal military campaigns to conquer all of Greece. While he is away at war, his wife Olympias gives birth to their first son, Alexander, and sends word that the baby is a god. Philip returns to see his son, and is suspicious of the child's paternity when Olympias' devoted Egyptian soothsayer, Nectenabus, who is rumored to be the baby's father, reiterates his claim. The king confides in his aides that he is considering having Nectenabus killed, and Parmenio urges him to also kill the scheming Olympias and the baby to avoid appearing like a jealous lover. However, Philip instead proudly displays the new prince to his populace. By the time the highly educated and sheltered Alexander is a young man, he longs for the glory of battle. Philip, meanwhile, more powerful than ever, chafes under the label of barbarian, due to public perception that he is a brutal conqueror but a weak ruler. In time, Philip appoints Alexander to be the regent of Macedonia, against the advice of Alexander's teacher, the philosopher Aristotle, who believes Alexander is immature. At the palace at Pella, where Olympias resides, Philip warns Alexander that his mother is plotting to destroy Philip and rule Macedonia through Alexander. To that end, she has installed her brother's army on the Macedonian border. Before he leaves for battle, Philip instructs Alexander to exile Olympias. When Alexander refuses, Philip assigns Antipater to be his son's political advisor. Alexander, who believes the prediction that he is a god and is destined to die young, eagerly exercises his power by waging war against local tribes. In 356 B.C., Greek statesmen Aeschenes and Demosthenes publicly debate Philip's legacy of warfare, and Alexander visits his father's encampment to join the attack on Athens, but is offended by Philip's romance with Eurydice, the niece of General Attalus. Philip chastises his son for naming conquered cities after himself, erecting statues devoted to his own image and denuding their tribes of prospective warriors. Philip nevertheless gives Alexander command of a regiment that will attack the Athenian army. Despite Alexander's reservations about his father, he saves Philip's life during their victorious battle at Chaeronea, and is hailed as a hero. Fearing assassination and hoping to save Athens from destruction, Philip sends Alexander to arrange a peace treaty. In Athens, Alexander meets Demosthenes, Aeschenes and General Memnon, and becomes attracted to Memnon's wife Barsine. Demosthenes reluctantly signs the treaty that makes Athens part of Philip's empire, despite his belief that Athenians have lost their freedom. When Alexander returns to Pella he learns that Philip has divorced and humiliated Olympias. The resentful Alexander dutifully attends Philip's wedding to Eurydice, but later argues with his father. At the wedding celebration, Attalus loudly suggests that Alexander is illegitimate. Alexander assaults him, then belittles Philip when the king drunkenly stumbles in his attempt to stop the fight. Alexander then awakens his mother and insists they leave Pella immediately. When Eurydice later gives birth to a son, Philip issues pardons and welcomes back exiles, including Olympias and Alexander, who is made an army commander. However, Philip banishes Alexander's closet friends, Harpalus, Ptolemy, Philotas and Pausanias, as he believes they incite Alexander's disloyalty. That night, Alexander overhears his mother insinuate to the drunk and embittered Pausanias that he would be famous if he killed Philip. The next day at a religious ceremony, Pausanias assassinates Philip, and is himself killed by Alexander in retribution. Alexander then presents himself to his father's army, which has the right to elect the next king, and publicly disavows involvement in his father's murder, and pledges to continue the mission to conquer Persia. Alexander inherits the throne and claims the loyalty of all Greek statesmen except for Memnon, who rejects Alexander's claim on Athens. Two other rebellious statesmen are stoned to death on Alexander's orders. Eurydice commits suicide, and Polemias, one of Philip's aides, informs Alexander that Olympias has murdered Eurydice's child. By the spring of 334 B.C., Alexander has led his vast army through Asia, and begins to work his way to Persia. Memnon, meanwhile, is an advisor to the Persian emperor Darius, who insists on confronting Alexander's army at Granicus. One morning, Barsine, who is Persian and Greek, pleads with Memnon to avoid battle, and he believes she is in love with Alexander. The Macedonian army wins the first battle at Granicus and, after Alexander refuses to grant Memnon and his troops quarter, they are killed in an ensuing conflict. After solving the riddle of the legendary Gordion Knot by simply slicing the rope in two, Alexander cuts a bloody swath across the land and imprisons any Greek or Athenian who opposes him, except Barsine, who has become his lover. When Alexander receives scrolls proving that Demosthenes has betrayed him to Darius, Alexander is advised to return to Athens and force the Athenians' loyalty, without which no one believes they can win in Persia. Alexander is haunted by memories of his father and collapses. The next day, he disbands the fleet and grants his army the freedom to return home or remain and fight. Darius later sends a message belittling Alexander, and demanding that he withdraw. Instead, Alexander focuses his attention on killing Darius in battle, as the Persians will not fight without their commander. Alexander's plan partially succeeds when Darius is wounded, but escapes. Alexander adopts Darius' family, whom he finds at Darius' camp, while Darius and a small band of men continue to flee until his men mutiny and murder him. Later, Alexander finds a letter on Darius' body in which the emperor calls him son, and bids him to wed his daughter Roxane in order to meld their countries. Alexander is moved by the king's vision and has Darius' slayer impaled. Despite his victory, Alexander longs for even greater power. In time, he leads his army into India and demands that even his friends address him as a god. When his friend Philotas is heard complaining that Alexander's ambition leads to bloodshed, Alexander has Philotas and his father slain. Bitterness spreads among Alexander's most loyal friends. When Cleitus, his most devoted ally, angrily confronts Alexander and accuses him of self-aggrandizement and disloyalty, Alexander stabs him in the back with a spear, then sobs over the body. Exhausted and disillusioned, Alexander marches his remaining troops back to Macedonia. At Susa, a renewed Alexander pledges to conquer the hearts of mankind, rather than their territories, and marries Roxane in a mass wedding between Persians and Greeks. After the ceremony, Alexander makes a toast to his fallen family and friends, and prays for peace. At that moment, Alexander collapses. With his last breath, Alexander urges Barsine to allow his body to disappear into the Euphrates River, so that people will believe that he was a god. Alexander then wills his empire to the strongest among his men, and dies.
Marisa De Leza
Teresa Del Rio
Mario De Barros
Luis De Santiago
Jose Del Pino
Gordon S. Griffith
H.r.h. Prince Peter Of Greece
Alexander the Great
Rossen was clearly fascinated by his subject. "A man born before his time, a catalytic agent, he emerged from an era of warring nationalisms to try for the first time in history to get the peoples of Asia and Europe to live together," Rossen explained. "But he became a destructive force and in the process of destroying other people while attempting to unify them, he destroyed himself."
After researching and writing the screenplay for three years, it took him eight months to shoot the movie, mostly in locations spread throughout Spain. Alexander the Great was budgeted at a hefty $2-million, but Rossen managed to leave that figure in the dust as filming continued. Rossen, of course, attempted to illustrate Alexander's bid to take over the world and in the early sequences, the film deals with Alexander's hate-driven relationship with his father, King Philip of Macedonia (Fredric March), and his put-upon mother, Olympias (Danielle Darrieux). Eventually, Alexander ascends to the throne, and that's when the film lurches forward and then stalls, in a pattern that's repeated over and over for 143 minutes. Burton leads armies into the battle of Issus, wrestles Asia Minor into submission, and Invades India, all to a rousing score by Mario Nascimbene.
Despite Rossen's commitment to research, the most memorable thing about Alexander the Great was probably the Cinemascope battle sequences, which featured 350 cavalrymen and 6,000 foot soldiers...not to mention 5,000 bows and arrows, 1,000 shields, 5,000 spears, 500 hundred tents, 50 chariots, and 2,000 suits of armor. That still wasn't enough for the American public, a large segment of which was more inclined to stay at home and ponder I Love Lucy than pay good money for yet another historical epic. Alexander the Great was a box office bomb.
Rossen was one of the few big-time 1940s filmmakers to largely break free of studio constraints. Shortly after World War II, he set up his own production company, and was thus able to have more control over his pictures. Perhaps that degree of self-determination is behind the long-winded speechifying that usually enervates Alexander the Great after yet another wide-screen battle sequence has set it ablaze. In fact, Rossen originally wanted a much longer film. "You see Alexander originally was a three-hour picture," he said. "I wanted it done with an intermission. They got me very frightened at the length, and they finally wore me down. Actually, it's a much better picture in three hours than it is in two hours and twenty minutes, precisely for one reason. It unveils the various guilts Alexander felt toward his father much more deeply - for instance his chase of Darius. It is not just a simple chase to kill the Emperor of the Persian Empire. The chase for Darius is tied up with his tremendous feeling that as long as a father figure is alive in royalty, he has to kill him."
Unlike many of his peers (such as John Ford and Howard Hawks), Rossen was always willing to explain his goals as a director. In the process, he revealed himself to be a thoughtful man of passionate beliefs. "The element common to many of my films," he wrote in 1962, "is the desire for success, ambition, which is an important element in American life. It is an important element, and has become increasingly more important in what is known as Western Civilization."
A man who attempted to drive the world to its knees through warfare could certainly be described as possessing some ambition. So, in that sense, Alexander the Great is right in keeping with such Rossen films as Body and Soul (1947) and All the King's Men (1949). It's just five times as big and much, much longer.
Most critics at the time expressed the same sentiment. Variety reported that "It took Alexander, 'the Great,' some 10 years to conquer the known world back in the fourth century, B.C. It seems to take Robert Rossen almost as long to recreate on film this slice of history." Films and Filming chimed in with "So passionate is his admiration for Alexander, so sincere is his interpretation of Alexander's life and times, that the rambling narrative loses its dramatic momentum and the final result is to instruct more than to entertain." And The New Yorker offered this observation: "While the picture has plenty of interesting pageantry, it doesn't offer quite enough drama to hold one's attention for its full length..." The most dubious assessment came from The Harvard Lampoon who proclaimed it the worst film of 1956. Even Richard Burton added his two cents, saying "I know all 'epics' are awful, but I thought Alexander the Great might be the first good one. I was wrong. They cut it about - played down to the audience. I say if the audience doesn't understand, let 'em stay ignorant."
Still, the film had its defenders and A.H. Weiler of The New York Times wrote "Although this spectacle runs a lengthy two-and-a-half hours, its moments of boredom are rare.....Richard Burton contributes a serious and impassioned portrayal." The film also garnered a nomination for Rossen from the Directors Guild of America for "Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures." And, as if to counterbalance The Harvard Lampoon's "special award," Alexander the Great was selected by Seventeen magazine as the picture of the month and was awarded a medal of special merit by Parents magazine.
Producer/Director: Robert Rossen
Screenplay: Robert Rossen
Editor: Ralph Kemplen
Cinematographer: Robert Krasker Music: Mario Nascimbene
Special Effects: Cliff Richardson
Set Design: Andre Andrejew
Costume Designer: David Ffolkes
Cast: Richard Burton (Alexander the Great), Fredric March (Philip of Macedonia), Claire Bloom (Barsine), Danielle Darrieux (Olympias), Harry Andrews (Darius), Stanley Baker (Attalus), Niall MacGinnis (Parmenio), Peter Cushing (Memnon), Michael Hordern (Demosthenes), Barry Jones (Aristotle), Marisa De Leza (Eurydice).
by Paul Tatara
The Films of Robert Rossen by Alan Casty
Fredric March: Craftsman First, Star Second by Deborah C. Peterson
Richard Burton: A Bio-Bibliography by Tyrone Steverson
MaGill's Survey of Cinema, essay by Rob Edelman
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great on DVD
Among the throng of Machiavellian participants are Peter Cushing, Harry Andrews (as King Darius), Claire Bloom, Stanley Baker, Niall MacGinnis, and The Innocents's Peter Wyngarde - quite a contrast from the Hollywood epics pouring out during the mid-1950s. Behind the camera, director Robert Rossen (All the King's Men, The Hustler) uses the striking Spanish locations as a convincing stand-in for ancient Greece, with the battles conveyed in a surprisingly naturalistic, understated fashion.
As with most period pieces, the film veers up and down in quality from scene to scene depending on the actors present; his distracting hair aside, Burton does a fine job as Alex (even if he can't quite pull off playing younger than his years) while the slew of character actors spout florid lines without looking too ridiculous. At the very least, it's far more consistent and easier to swallow than Oliver Stone's over-the-top 2004 version (ignorance of Alexander's purported bisexuality aside) and, though it can't hold a candle to Spartacus for sandal-filled spectacle, Rossen's effort still provides reasonable entertainment value. Packed with incident, the Oedipal story covers a fairly short lifespan in a reasonable amount of time, compressing numerous military maneuvers and regime changes without completely losing the story threads before the surprisingly subdued, non-powerhouse finale.
MGM's DVD offers a very impressive anamorphic transfer of this scope film, which takes full advantage of the wide frame even in the most minor dialogue sequences. The print looks clean and robust, a welcome change from the previous widescreen editions on laserdisc and import DVD.
This disc also represents the longest version available, clocking in at 136 minutes; in some territories the film lost as much as half an hour footage, pretty much wrecking the story by confining the focus to the action instead (a deadly mistake where this film is concerned). The two-channel Dolby soundtrack does a fine job showing off Mario Nascimbene's opulent score; one can only presume that Burton was impressed enough by the results here to recruit the composer for Burton's own stab at directing period drama, Doctor Faustus. The sole extra is the theatrical trailer, a typically overlong bit of grandstanding typical of studio public relations at the time.
For more information about Alexander the Great, visit MGM. To order Alexander the Great, go to TCM Shopping.
by Nathaniel Thompson
Alexander the Great on DVD
Peter Wyngarde was originally tested for the lead role of Alexander, but ended up in the smaller role of Pausanias.
Helmut Dantine's role is dubbed by 'Christopher Lee' (uncredited).
The film's pressbook and reviews offer various spellings of some of the characters' names. The cast and character list above reflect the screen credits whenever possible. Opening credits include the following written acknowledgment: "Grateful acknowledgement is made of the co-operation shown by the Spanish government, its Army, the Ministry of Informacion y Turismo, and to the officials and people of the various localities in Spain in which this film was made: Madrid, Manzanares, El Molar, Rascafria, Segovia and Malaga." Robert Rossen's screen credit appears as "Written, Produced and Directed by Robert Rossen." The film is preceded by the following written prologue: "It is the year 356 in a troubled, exhausted, divided, bloody Greece." The film opens with a scene in Athens, in which the Greek statesmen "Aeschenes" and "Demosthenes" are making public speeches about the conqueror "Philip of Macedonia"'s legacy. The setting then shifts to a flashback of Philip's campaigns, leading up to Battle of Chaeronea.
A voice-over epilogue, which states "Wonders are many but none is more wonderful than man himself," is a quotation from Sophocles' play Antigone (440 B.C.). The film follows the basic facts of the life of Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.), as well as other details, including his murder of his friend Cleitus, and the emperor's belief that he was a god. According to historical record, Alexander the Great May have died of influenza or pneumonia.
March and August 1954 Hollywood Reporter news items indicated that Twentieth Century-Fox was planning a film based on the life of Alexander the Great, titled Alexander the Conqueror, with producer Frank Ross. Author Louis de Wohl was then signed to write the screenplay, and locations were being scouted in India. However, that film was never made and is unlikely to have been connected to Rossen's production. Various contemporary news items reported that Alexander the Great was in development for approximately three years while Rossen completed his copious research. The budget, originally estimated at $2,000,000, grew to a negative cost of $4,000,000 by the conclusion of production. According to a December 20, 1955 news item in Daily Variety, Spain's C.B. Films, which, according to copyright records was based in Switzerland, formed a production partnership with Rossen in exchange for Spanish distribution rights. The film was shot entirely on location in Spain. Between 5,000 and 6,000 Spanish extras were used during filming. Life magazine noted that battle scenes included "Madrid mounted police, whose chief played the part of a high priest traveling with Alexander in the film," and that Spain's army also contributed three hundred cavalrymen.
A April 24, 1955 article in New York Times indicated that Rossen began scouting locations as early as August 1954. Various news items and an article in This Week magazine, dated September 4, 1955, noted that Rossen had originally planned to shoot on location in Greece, Persia or Yugoslavia, but these countries lacked suitable film production facilities. In addition to the locations noted in the onscreen acknowledgment, the pressbook in copyright records adds the following locations: La Cabrera, as the plains of Axios; La Pedriza, as the setting for the battle of Cheronea; El Vallon, as the public meeting place in Athens and the Palace of Persepolis and Barajas as the setting for the battle of Granicus. As noted in a New York Times article dated April 24, 1955, Alexander the Great marked Rossen's first film in CinemaScope. According to earlier news items in Variety, the VistaVision process was also under consideration by Rossen, who tested both in England in November 1954. Rossen also edited the film in London in 1955 and early 1956, according to a December 30, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item.
The Los Angeles premiere on March 28, 1956 was a charity event to benefit the Southern California Olympic Fund. According to a October 17, 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item, Rossen was nominated for directorial achievement by the Screen Directors Guild for his work in Alexander the Great. In a later interview, Rossen noted that the original running time was approximately three hours, but that studio officials convinced him to edit the picture further to shorten it. A modern source also adds that John Cassavetes was briefly considered for the lead.
In 2003, filmmakers Oliver Stone and Baz Luhrmann were in production on competing motion pictures about Alexander the Great. Stone's production was released in 2004 and featured Colin Farrell as Alexander, as well as Anthony Hopkins and Angelina Jolie. Luhrmann's production, initially planned for a 2005 release, was still in development as of June 2005. The production tentatively will star Leonardo DiCaprio as the emperor, and Nicole Kidman as Olympias.
Released in United States Spring April 1956
Released in United States Spring April 1956