Combustible Celluloid
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With: Tim Roth, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Mélanie Thierry, Bill Nunn, Clarence Williams III, Peter Vaughan, Niall O'Brien, Gabriele Lavia, Vernon Nurse, Alberto Vazquez
Written by: Giuseppe Tornatore, based on a story by Alessandro Baricco
Directed by: Giuseppe Tornatore
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 123
Date: 10/28/1998

The Legend of 1900 (1999)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Keys to Happiness

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso) has always been wonderfully sappy, which has worked in his native Italian, but doesn't play as well in English. The Legend of 1900 is his first English-language movie, and it just seems to hit one wrong note after another.

It begins with a good idea. Tim Roth plays Nineteen Hundred, a man born on an Ocean liner that makes the trip back and forth from Europe to America. Nineteen Hundred never ever gets off the ship, not even when he has a good reason. He exhibits a God-given talent for piano and becomes the ship's pianist. The movie is made up more of singular episodes than a storyline. A few of these episodes show a piano duel between Nineteen Hundred and Jelly Roll Morton (played by Clarence Williams III) and Nineteen Hundred's failed courtship with a beautiful French girl (played by model Melanie Theirry).

Tornatore really lays on the syrup here, as in a scene in which Nineteen Hundred and his best friend sidekick Max (Pruitt Taylor Vince) ride the piano around the ballroom during a tossing-and-turning storm at sea. The scene itself is enchanting, but for some reason, the camera swoops and swirls around more than the piano does. The director later ruins the piano duel by making it a mean-spirited to-the-death affair in which both men insult each other instead of really enjoying themselves.

The music, by the legendary Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad & the Ugly, Days of Heaven), is lovely. It lifts parts of the film from utter collapse. But the movie itself is too long and too uneven for me to really recommend.

Best Buy Co, Inc.