August 26, 2019  (Web Review)

Galileo

Kino, 145 min., PG, Blu-ray: $29.99

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

In 1947, Joseph Losey directed the first American stage production of Bertold Brecht’s titular play about 17th-century mathematician and astronomer Galileo Galilei, who was forced to renounce his findings that the Earth revolved around the Sun. Galileo presented a portrait of truth being suppressed by the government and of individuals threatened into conformity, serving as a powerful metaphor for U.S. investigations into suspected Communists. In 1975, Losey (who left for Europe after he was blacklisted) directed this faithful screen adaptation of the play for the American Film Theatre, which was screened in special showings and then went unseen for decades. Topol’s (Fiddler on the Roof) hearty performance as Galileo was criticized by critics as being hammy and overly heroic (Brecht presented him as a coward who bowed to pressure to conform) but his energy helps drive Brecht’s portrait of the man as being an opportunist as well as a scientist. Still, he’s somewhat out of step with the supporting cast of British acting luminaries, including John Gielgud as a cardinal who rejects Galileo’s science, Edward Fox and Patrick Magee as church officials, and Georgia Brown, Tom Conti, Margaret Leighton, and Clive Revill. Although filmed on soundstages, the direction emphasizes the stage roots, from the austere, suggestive sets and shadows, to the larger-than-life performances, to the use of a musical Greek chorus during scene transitions. Presented with extras including archival interviews with Topol and Edie Landau (widow of American Film Theatre project producer Ely Landau), and an archival featurette on Ely Landau, this timely film is recommended. (S. Axmaker)