This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966)

"I only know I have this power. I have always had it. I can feel it burning within me, driving me on. It is here inside me. It is in my hands. And I warn you, I warn you all, that I, Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin, intend to use it. The power is mine and I will use it as I please."
-Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin.

The title character of this movie is one of the most fascinating in history. He began as a monk who was later expelled from his monastery because of his excessive drinking and womanizing as well as his volatile temper (one could call Rasputin an inspiration for Sonny Corleone). By 1915, with Russia deep in World War I and on the brink of revolution, he managed to become the close confidante of Tsarina Alexandra. The reason she allowed him into the inner circle of the Romanov family was because of how Rasputin managed to heal her son, Alexis, who was hemophiliac. His healing ability remained a mystery to doctors. The influence Rasputin had over her, especially with Tsar Nicholas personally at the battlefront, led to others close to the royal family to plot his demise.

This attempt was successful in December 1916. However, even details of Rasputin's assassination are mysterious. Felix Usupov, who married the Tsar's niece, Irina, first attempted to poison Rasputin with cyanide-laced pastries. When those had no effect, Usupov resorted to shooting Rasputin. Usupov and his fellow conspirators then deposed of the body in the nearby Malaya Nevka River. However, an autopsy later revealed that the cause of Rasputin's death of drowning.

Prior to his death, Rasputin wrote to Alexandra that, should anyone take his own life, then the Romanov family would soon follow. As it turns out, Nicholas was overthrown shortly afterward and, along with Alexandra and their children, were imprisoned in Yekaterinburg, where they were executed on July 17, 1918.

Not surprisingly, there have been numerous movies about Rasputin. Of the ones I've seen, my favorite is probably Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny(1996), which deservedly won Emmys for Alan Rickman's performance in the title role and Greta Scacchi's performance as Alexandra.

This film, which Hammer made back to back with Dracula-Prince of Darkness using some of the same sets and cast members, takes some liberties with the historical account of Rasputin, but is still entertaining.

Lee's Rasputin is first seen coming at an inn for something to drink. The innkeeper (Derek Francis) agrees to throw a party after Rasputin heals his ill wife. During the party, his romp in the hay with a girl is interrupted by a man who resents his luck with the ladies. The ensuing fight leads to Rasputin being disciplined by an Orthodox bishop. After the innkeeper defends him, Rasputin, despite accusations from the bishop that his power is from the devil, announces that his power is his and he will continue to use it.

After arriving in St. Petersburg, Rasputin engages in a drinking contest with Dr. Boris Zargo (Richard Pasco) in another inn. That same night, Rasputin encounters Sonia (Barbara Shelley), Vanessa (Suzan Farmer) and her brother Ivan (Francis Matthews), who are all associates of the royal family. Rasputin is angered when Sonia laughs after burping, interrupting his dancing.

The next morning, Rasputin takes a passed out Zargo to his home, where he then hypnotically calls Sonia. When she arrives, Rasputin slaps her but his anger with her lessens when she reveals her link to the Tsarina. After sending Zargo off, the two make love. Afterward, Rasputin hypnotizes her into injuring Alexandra's son Alexei, so Rasputin can be sent for to heal him. Before Zargo can object, Rasputin also instructs Sonia to make him the family's doctor.

Not surprisingly, Rasputin's subsequent influence with the Tsarina leads to even more womanizing. He renounces an anguished Sonia and hypnotizes her into committing suicide.

This leads Zargo plotting Rasputin's demise with Ivan and Sonia's brother Peter (Dinsdale Landen). Upon hearing of his sister's death, Peter confronts Rasputin, who kills him by throwing acid in his face.

Zargo and Ivan lure Rasputin to a meeting, offering poisoned wine and candies. Although the poison ravages his body, Rasputin still has enough strength to fight Ivan before Zargo takes a knife the monk meant for Ivan. This sacrifice allows Ivan to toss Rasputin out a window to his death.

I must confess, this film skips over some historical aspects that would have been nice to see. For instance, I would have like the climatic struggle between Rasputin, Ivan and Zargo to be even longer. For once, we would actually have a real-life monster getting up over and over again. As silly as this sounds, I also think those Esther Price candies Zargo poisons aren't as appealing as the Krispy Kreme doughnuts Usupov used.

But as nice as the supporting cast is, Lee is the one who makes the movie work. He was known for being as historically accurate as possible when it came to playing real-life figures. Sir Christopher was also known for being quite tall, while Rasputin, like Hitler and Charles Manson, was physically small. Despite the height difference, Lee's work was praised by none other than Maria, Rasputin's daughter, whom he met shortly after the film's release. She noted that Lee captured her father's expression, which is simply another testament to how great Sir Christopher was.

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