No one would bother with this obscure 1941 student film if it did not feature a 17-year-old Charlton Heston in his screen debut. Long before he was driving chariots, fighting those damn dirty apes and making the world safe for gun enthusiasts, Heston played the title role in this 16mm student film based on Henrik Ibsen’s classic play.
But you wouldn’t know it was a classic from this adaptation. The film has all of the vices associated with student movies (hammy acting, clumsy direction, a heaving sense of self-worth and pretension) and none of the virtues. The film is, admittedly, ambitious, but its poverty is constantly on display. The wilderness in Ilinois and Wisconsin substitute for the play’s Norwegian and Moroccan locations, and bad make-up barely disguises the young non-professionals who play the village elders. Edvard Grieg’s beloved music fills the soundtrack (it actually drowns it) but Ibsen’s language is absent – the film was shot as a silent production and intertitles fill the absence of voices.
As for Heston, he comes across as an uncommonly handsome youth with no evidence of acting talent. He would reunite with David Bradley, the producer-director of “Peer Gynt,” in 1950 for another amateurish performance in an amateur film (“Julius Caesar”) before heading to Hollywood to enjoy a career of amateurish performances in professional films.