Movie Monday: Man of La Mancha

By Alexandria Harris

Premise: Cervantes and his manservant are imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition and the prisoners put him on trial. His defense is a story.

Best Quotes:

“Reality–a stone prison crushing the human spirit. Poetry demands imagination and with imagination, you may discover a dream.”- Cervantes

“Miguel de Cervantes I charge you with being an idealist, a bad poet, and an honest man how plead you?” Prisoner

“We both select from life”-Cervantes, referring to how poets and madmen are alike.

“Madness most of all is seeing life as it is, not as it should be.”-Cervantes

I know this is a musical, but I thought I stepped into a distorted production of the Wizard of Oz or The Wiz with all of the tin men and straw people jumping around and Catholic monks as the wicked witches in the first scene.

But no, it just happens to be Cervantes putting on the play “Don Quixote” in the square–and gets arrested by Inquisition soldiers five seconds later.

I love when movies dive right in and get to the point.

Cervantes and his manservant look like they’re headed to prison, especially because of a dungeon like structure they are escorted to, but apparently they only wait for their trial in two hours.

Cervantes goes into this hilarious monologue where he tells the prisoners that he’s been to prison many times (how mobster of him), that he finds the world a prison at times, and then gets attacked by the inmates!

Cervantes begs the prisoners to “try” him when they almost put his manuscript in flames and he almost dives in to save it. He tells them he presented an entertainment and is to go before the Inquisition. The prisoners put him on trial.

Cervantes and his servant put on Don Quixote for the prisoners and he transforms into the part (meaning Peter O’ Toole looks like he does presently, only in grey and with a longer beard) and breaks out into song.

Warning: the songs are catchy (and really cheesy) with donkeys and other animals doing some fancy footwork. I found myself singing “I’m Don Quixote, yes Lord of La Mancha” over and over.

The first song apparently has magic powers because suddenly Cervantes/Don Quixote and Sancho/his manservant are in a field and living the scene where Don Quixote sees a giant and it’s actually a windmill.

I think Sancho and Don Quixote are both right and it’s a giant windmill. The windmill fighting scene alone will either have you in stitches, give you a slight case of vertigo, or both.

The movie flashes back to the prison where Cervantes picks prisoners to be in his next scene. He goes among the women and picks his Al Donza, saying she could be a tiger crouching with fire and the scene turns back into Don Quixote land.

Sophia Loren’s Al Donza is FEISTY. I admired her character until she started singing. She was literally attacked by all these horny mean to the point that I was for sure I was going to see a rape scene for a hot second. But she sang her way out of it.

The prisoners wonder if Cervantes is trying to distract them from their purpose instead of mounting a defense. Cervantes affirms that it’s exactly what he’s doing and asks to continue. He chooses more for his cast and the audience delves deeper into the world of Don Quixote, into his family.

His niece is soon to be wedded and wants to hide her uncle’s apparent madness from her fiance or he might break the engagement. Thus the intrigue and plotting begins.

Watching the movie helped me to appreciate how much of a storyteller Cervantes was, how much of a genius he was at setting the scene. I usually enjoy a play within a play. It was a nice twist to have the prisoners perform Don Quixote and have it seem drawn from Cervantes’ life.

The fact that Don Quixote looked like the malnourished, human, and ten years older version of Victor from The Corpse Bride only enhanced the movie for me.

It was too long at a little over two hours, but at least it was interesting. If you cut the songs out you’d probably get rid of thirty minutes. The singing didn’t exactly blow me away, but it did the job. I’m not much for musicals, but this one kept me thoroughly entertained. The dialogue was great, O’Toole makes a very convincing, off-his-rocker Don Quixote.

The story was well put together and it makes a good movie. I give it a 6/10 mainly because it does a great job at connecting the writer/story/and reality but the story would have flowed better if it wasn’t a musical. But what an ending! (in a good way)

Alexandria Harris is a writer and former reporter on WSUM 91.7. When she isn’t watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy on repeat, she tweets regularly as @_ALHarris. Alexandria lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.