A no account outlaw establishes his own particular brand of law and order and builds a town on the edges of civilization in this farcical western. With the aid of an old law text and ... See full summary »
Against a background of war breaking out in Europe and the Mexican fiesta Day of Death, we are taken through one day in the life of Geoffrey Firmin, a British consul living in alcoholic disrepair and obscurity in a small southern Mexican town in 1939. The Consul's self-destructive behaviour, perhaps a metaphor for a menaced civilization, is a source of perplexity and sadness to his nomadic, idealistic half-brother, Hugh, and his ex-wife, Yvonne, who has returned with hopes of healing Geoffrey and their broken marriage. Written by
Eric Wees <firstname.lastname@example.org>
a man's alcoholic descent into hell over one day's time turns out as superlative film-making and acting
Under the Volcano could have made as just another 'Lost Weekend' film if not for the attention to a simple narrative (though one that has a lot underneath the surface), and a performance to compellingly take us through the unbalanced emotional state of its protagonist. From what I've read about what the novel became by this adaptation, Huston took out the big poetic bits that made it such an unclassifiable (and as many claimed unadaptable) work and made it into a tale of a man's downfall from grace and good times. The story is as such: Geoffrey Firmin (Finney) is a recently retired consul in Mexico who has that big, admirable personality that comes with those who have lived- or boasted to live- quite a life, and have taken now to mass consumptions of alcohol. It's not even about the enjoyment of it, but a compulsion for 'balance' to drink just to get sober, as it might be. He's also divorced, recently, but his wife (Bisset) comes to him again, wanting once more to patch things up.
This is set in the backdrop of the 'Day of the Dead' festival, and on the brink of world war 2, but these things are, however brilliantly and as a kind of delicate lining around, a backdrop for the emotional and mental and, it should be noted, spiritual struggle of Firmin. Huston never preaches about this man's rotting addiction, and there's no easy sympathy either. We see his emotional state rock from happy and hopeful to the pits of despair following the bullfight his half-brother Hugh (Andrews) takes part in, where he can't basically grasp his own reality anymore. Underneath this surface of the film though, where we're given this proud, unstable character, there's chaos riling about, attached in a way to the mood around, with rumored Nazi collaborators in the midst of things, a near-murdered body on the side of the road, the matter-of-fact metaphors of the symbols of death that (as Huston makes in one of the most Gothic openings to a movie I've ever seen) opens the film with marionette skeletons to an eerie Alex North score.
But lest to say that all credit should go to Huston for his storytelling. It's an interesting film for the first three quarters, though in a way feels like it has to be building for something; here and there, even as we're with these character wandering in a state of mind of disarray (will Firmin and Yvonne stay together, split apart, who will run away are the basic questions, as well as how Andrews might have something to do with it on either side), it starts to feel like it could become meandering. In that last quarter, however, Huston lays on a feeling of dread, maybe not entirely with coincidence, that hasn't been seen since Treasure of the Sierra Madre- something bad just HAS to happen, and it will come out through the worst devils of the protagonist's nature. There is that for Huston, the power of that brothel sequence, the terror and even the dark humor.
The best reason above all else, even as it's one of Huston's most challenging films, is that Finney is so terrific in the role. It's a startling work of an actor taking down his guard, making himself vulnerable and naked, so to speak, to the discord booze has brought to his mind. He gets depth to a guy that should be just another Hemingway figure, of the sorrow that really lies in every little moment and gesture and inflection. It also goes without saying he's one of the top three or four convincing drinkers in modern film. And at the same time it's not easy to peg what he'll do next as an actor, which step he might cross or double-back on. While his co-stars are very good in their parts, he dares to overshadow them with a tour-de-force. Under the Volcano pits its character into hell, and Huston brings us, without going overboard with stylistic flourishes, right along with him.
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