This is an entry into the "show must go on" category, but a more
serious one than usual. The circumstances which may close down the
production are far more dire than skittish backers, skeptical parents
or censors. The production is threatened by World War 2 itself. The
story takes place in Rome in the late summer of 1939 and a
multi-national production is rushing to complete a non-musical
production of Tosca before Germany invades Poland and unleashes hell
in Europe. The beginning of the war will affect more than just
shooting schedules and cash sources. The members of the cast and crew
are about to be re-cast as enemies in real life, and many will have to
flee Italy. The film has an Italian producer, but from a Nazi
perspective he's not one of the good Italians because he's triply
cursed with liberal anti-fascism, Jewishness and homosexuality.
Tosca's co-stars are a British man with a wife in a mental
institution and a German woman in a loveless marriage to a Nazi.
Predictably, they fall into a doomed love affair, but the romantic
pairing of 62-year-old Jonathan Pryce with Catherine McCormack never
really seems to work. The couple had absolutely no electricity between
them, to the extent that the film was more than half over before I
figured out that Pryce's character was not supposed to be the gay
confidante but was, in fact, the love interest. When the two bid
farewell, presumably forever, in their hotel, the scene just never
conveyed the overwhelming sadness which two lonely people must have
felt after finally finding love's bloom and then being forced to nip
it in its bud.
The film makes both tacit and explicit references to Michael Curtiz,
the Hungarian director who made Casablanca. Curtiz had not yet made
that masterpiece by 1939, but he was already the most famous Hungarian
director in Hollywood history, and was the idol of the fictional Hungarian
director portrayed in this story. In homage, many of the vintage Curtiz scene transitions, wipes and so forth, are used in both The
Moon and the Stars and in the Tosca within it. It is also probably not
a coincidence that the scheming Nazi in this film bears a very strong
resemblance to the actor who played Major Strasser in Casablanca. The
most direct attempt to evoke Curtiz occurs in the farewell between the
film's lovers as they are separated by the war. It's a scene that
tries to evoke the same kind of feeling as the "hill of beans"
farewell in Casablanca, which is considered one of the ten most
memorable scenes in history.
As far as wartime farewells go, I knew Casablanca, senator, and you are
The drama comes up as short as the romance. The sub-plot, in which
the Jewish producer is swindled out of everything he has by a cagey
Nazi pretending to be his friend, never really produces the dramatic
tension that should inhere in such a story, and a key element of that
sub-plot is spoiled by the fact that something which should be a
last-minute surprise is telegraphed too obviously in an earlier scene.
The dramatic rush to shoot the final three days of the filming
schedule in one long overnighter could have been a great opportunity
to show dozens of people rising to a difficult occasion under immense
pressure and working through fatigue and short tempers, but instead it
comes off as a rather routine period with no real sense of urgency,
followed by an unlikely champagne celebration.
Because of all those missed opportunities, the film misses the mark
overall, even though it has good moments, good intentions and good
ideas. In addition to the Curtiz homages, the overall conceit is that
it is a 1939-style film about making another 1939-style film in 1939,
and in some respects the machinations and betrayals shown in the
film-within-a-film version of Tosca reflect the events unfolding
simultaneously in 1939 Italy. The film can't be faulted for laziness
or lack of ambition. The Moon and the Stars has a good enough concept,
and was made by some smart people, but it just seems to lack the
passion and drama necessary to rise above the pack and be noticed.