Doctor Zhivago (1965) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Tuna's comments in white:

Doctor Zhivago (1965) was the last epic film from MGM, and was done by David Lean on the heels of Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia. It is based on the Nobel prize-winning book by Boris Pasternak, which told the history of the Russian revolution and its aftermath, covering the approximate period from 1900 through 1940, told through the eyes of Doctor Zhivago, a physician and poet who loves two women. The film makes the love story the focus, and uses the revolution as the backdrop.

The film was critically panned as not up to previous efforts at the time, but was a huge box office success nevertheless. The critics have become kinder over the years, and place it in the 3 to 3 1/2 star range, mostly because David Lean knew how to film movies. The book was banned in the USSR, so it was necessary for Lean to film elsewhere. This resulted in a re-creation of turn-of-the-century Moscow being built in Spain.


Almost none. The only exposure is from Irish actress Siobhan McKenna as Lara's mother, who is naked following a suicide, but shows only the side of a breast, and the very top of her buns.

In reading reviews, the music is either "powerful and memorable" (indeed, Lara's Theme plays from nearly every musical jewel box made since the film opened) or "so overexposed that it is nauseous". The acting is called top notch from the entire cast by some, and mushy and uninspired by others. At over 4 hours, this is not a film you should select lightly, as it will require a real commitment. 

The special DVD release is a two disk set featuring a flawless restoration, a commentary, and nearly every "making of" featurette ever created about this film, including a new one made just for the DVD release.

Scoop's comments

Perhaps someday Hollywood will do justice to a great work of Russian literature. This ain't it. Oh, it's a good movie, and an impressive one, but not a great one, and it isn't really about Russians at all, but about what the Russian Revolution would have been like if it had taken place between British-educated people in Spain.  And if the revolution weren't really important at all except for how it messed up the Doc's love life.

Oh, that darned Lenin. He could really mess up some good poontang.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • Full-length commentary with Sharif, Steiger, and David Lean's wife

  • 11 documentaries, including a new one for the 30th anniversary

  • some other small features

I like to go to movies in the theatre and listen to the audience reaction. One of my clearest memories is the audience laughing near the end of the film, when Zhivago (Egyptian Omar Sharif) deserted the Red Army partisan unit, then was seen calling out to random strangers on a snow-swept country road to get them to turn around, so he could see if they were his wife, Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin).  Hey, it's reasonable to assume that anybody walking on a road in Russia could have been her. It's a small country.

It's a pretty good measure of moviemaking failure, I'd say, when people laugh at the lead character's despair.

It was annoying enough that he did that once, but he later repeated essentially the same exercise in Moscow, years later, this time imagining a random woman to be his mistress, Lara (the spectacularly beautiful Julie Christie). Or maybe this technique was just the Doc's standard "line" to pick up chicks, kind of the Russian equivalent of "Haven't we met?"

To be fair, I suppose Doctor Zhivago probably should have won the Best Picture Oscar in what was one of the worst years in history. It was a better film than The Sound of Music, which won. (Oh, the humanity!) The other nominees were Ship of Fools, A Thousand Clowns, and Darling, which starred Julie Christie (again). Nothing on that list jumps out as a better picture than Zhivago, which could at least cite magnificent visuals as a claim to the throne.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars or more. Ebert 3/4, BBC 4/5, Maltin 3.5/4.

  • The film won 6 Oscars

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.7 
  • With their dollars ... it was a monster hit. $111 million dollars in 1965 was a lot of money. Has also generated $60 million in rental income. The original budget was $11 million.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, Tuna rates this film a B. (Scoop says: "I'm not sure. I suppose C+ might be the right grade.  I'd say a C+ rather than a B because there isn't much crossover potential for a four hour romance. If you don't like this sort of thing, you might cross over to the dark side for a light-hearted two hour picture, but not for a heavy-handed four hour epic. On the other hand, although I find it to be a trivialization of important issues, with one of the sappiest musical scores ever, it obviously has great appeal and is much beloved. It was a big box office success. Furthermore, Tuna does not generally like romantic dramas in historical costumes, and he liked this one, so perhaps B is the right grade.")

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