Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Assassination of Trotsky (1972)

Muddled and pretentious, this British drama takes the strange tack of inventing a fictional character in order to tell a story pulled from real-life. In 1940 Mexico, a Russian agent named Ramón Mercarder killed Leon Trotsky, the exiled founder of the Red Army. After helping to lead the Russian Revolution, Trotsky became a political enemy of Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin and fled the USSR for Mexico. Stalin then ordered Mercader to assassinate Trotsky, thus silencing a powerful opposition voice. Since all of this historical material is fascinating, the narrative path followed by the makers of The Assassination of Trotsksy is befuddling. Nicholas Mosley’s script presents the fictional Frank Jackson (Alain Delon) as Trotsky’s killer-in-waiting, and then wastes inordinate amounts of screen time on confusing scenes depicting the codependent relationship between Frank and Gita Samuels (Romy Schneider), who works as a housekeeper in Trotsky’s villa. They scream at each other a lot. Director Joseph Losey, who seems utterly lost in terms of what sort of movie he’s trying to make, generates marginal Day of the Jackal-style interest by showing Frank’s meticulous preparations for killing Trotsky, though this material ultimately feels superfluous. Similarly, the film includes many scenes of the aging Trotsky (Richard Burton) wandering around his villa and giving speeches about how the true meaning of Marxism has been overwhelmed by Stalin’s brutal totalitarianism. Eventually, the picture brings its disparate elements together when Frank uses his relationship with Gita to insinuate his way into the villa and befriend Trotsky, whom he then kills with a hammer to the back of the head. This occasions more yelling, because Burton transitions from the prior somnambulistic mode of his performance and commences a Grand Guignol freakout replete with geysers of blood pouring down his face. Just as Delon’s eyes are hidden behind sunglasses throughout most of the movie, whatever virtues The Assassination of Trotsky has are impossible to see through the fog of a lifeless and meandering storyline.

The Assassination of Trotsky: LAME


B Smith said...

The problem with films like this is that anyone going is going because they want to see the assassination of Trotsky - what they don't want is a couple of hours of build-up.

A bit like Cameron's "Titanic"...skip the back story, just get to the iceberg and sinking!

As complete digression, can I ask: your ratings system starts with Outta Sight, which means top notch. The next, Right On, presumably means not quite top notch but quite good...and each rating means a diminution of your esteem for the assessed film.

When you get to the bottom, do you mean that Freaky is even worse than unwatchable, or does it mean it's sort of uncategorisable? It's just that many films you've rated as Freaky are my favourite films, and I'm wondering if this means our tastes are diametrically opposed?

By Peter Hanson said...

Good question. I mean nothing pejorative by placing "Freaky" at the end of the rating system, and your second guess is basically correct. "Freaky" means that something like, say, "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" exists beyond the borders of normal critical assessment. In other words, "BVD" is plainly awful if one applies the usual criteria, and yet it's completely fabulous if embraced on its own terms. Some "Freaky" movies are weirdly enjoyable, and some are tremendously unpleasant, but all defy convention so wholeheartedly that the regular rules do not apply.

Groggy Dundee said...

What killed this one for me were the ridiculous art film flourishes: the needlessly long and bloody bullfight, random use of color filters, Delon spotting Stalin's reflection in the river, the oddball whisper-and-soprano score stolen from a slasher flick. There's the nugget of a good movie somewhere underneath all the mess; good luck finding it.