Combustible Celluloid
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With: Miroslav Machacek, Olga Scheinpflugova, Jiri Adamira, Illia Prachar, Josef Vinklar, Zdenka Prochazkova, Slavka Budinova, Jiri Virtala
Written by: Zbynek Brynych
Directed by: Zbynek Brynych
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Czech with English subtitles
Running Time: 95
Date: 06/05/1968

The Fifth Horseman Is Fear (1964)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Horseman' Feathers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Czech director Zbynek Brynych's The Fifth Horseman Is Fear opens strikingly, with a beautiful, widescreen, black-and-white frame capturing images of World War II, eerie, beautiful and devastating. Our hero (Miroslav Machácek) is a Jewish doctor forbidden to practice medicine and forced instead to work as a clerk in a warehouse. The good doctor has resigned himself to his fate, and hardly even questions it. But everything changes when one of his neighbors comes to him with a gunshot wound (sustained in the resistance). The doctor reluctantly treats it, but lacks the final touch: morphine to dull the pain. He sets out on an almost-surreal journey across Prague in search of morphine for a man he doesn't even know. The film's final half-hour deals with the repercussions of the doctor's actions and it never ceases its inventive camerawork and its striking imagery. Nevertheless I found it difficult to follow. The subtitles on the critic's screener disc I watched often seemed not to match up with the dialogue, and there were long, talky stretches with no subtitles at all. I can't fault the film itself for these lapses (and it's possible the final product will have been improved) so I'm recommending it anyway, with reservations.

DVD Details: Facets released the 2006 DVD with a video introduction by film historian Andrew Horton and liner notes.

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