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Luther
cast: Stacy Keach, Alan Badel, Julian Glover, Patrick Magee, and Robert Stephens

director: Guy Green

107 minutes (PG) 1974
inD / Fremantle DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Barry Forshaw
The re-release by Fremantle of the highly acclaimed American Film Theatre series is one of the unrecognised triumphs of the DVD revolution. While not all of Ely Landau's productions of great plays from around the world (the series title, with the word 'America' is something of a misnomer) are entirely successful, there have been some absolutely unmissable entries in this series, notably Harold Pinter's The Homecoming (directed by Peter Hall), with a matchless cast including Ian Holm, and an almost equally impressive version of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh (which showcased a career-best performance by Robert Ryan).

This version of John Osborne's classic play about the religious revolutionary Martin Luther is not one of the finest entries in the series, but boasts a considerable number of virtues, for those prepared to accept the leisurely pace of Guy Green's adaptation. Luther is probably John Osborne's last great play. After the groundbreaking Look Back In Anger and the almost equally successful The Entertainer, Osborne's stock could not have been higher, particularly as two highly successful film versions had been made of his signature plays. His battles with the then-all-powerful stage censor, were, of course, legendary, and Luther's frankness (notably with regard to the protagonist's troubled bodily functions) was looked at askance - a fact which seems rather quaint today.

While the supporting cast is a treasure trove of great British actors of the 1960s and 1970s (notably Julian Glover as the chorus, Alan Badel as a saturnine inquisitor and Huw Griffiths as a corrupt Cardinal), the central role of the rebellious monk was given to the excellent American actor Stacy Keach. While Keach's film career rarely matched the success of his New York stage accomplishments, he gives a remarkable performance as the tormented Luther. There are problems, however: while we are prepared to accept that these German monks and Cardinals speak in received pronunciation English, it's distracting that Luther (with his short 'A's) appears to have arrived from the American Midwest. Nevertheless, it's a performance of considerable power.

The play itself wears less well than one might have hoped, with its debts to Brecht worn clearly on the sleeve. However, in an era when religion is baring its teeth once more, Luther remains a salutary testament to the bloodshed committed in the name of piety. For those interested in British theatre, the DVD is well worth picking up, if you're prepared to make allowances for some of the foregoing. Picture and sound quality are acceptable.
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