The story: A surgeon gets syphilis from a patient when he cuts himself during an operation. The doctor’s life is destroyed, but unlike the patient, he doesn’t destroy others along with him.
Along with Sanshiro Sugata Part II, The Quiet Duel has been my least favourite Kurosawa film. Having watched so many of his films back to back, and in chronological order, I am perhaps beginning to understand what projects he was less interested in. On the other hand, he was so incredibly prolific that the occasional misstep is inevitable.
Nonetheless, the film’s high rating on IMDB makes me thing – am I wrong?
(After all, the fact that I had watched Black Orpheus by Marcel Camus, a polar opposite type of film, might have affected my reaction to the film.)
Yet, history is on my side. Kurosawa’s original vision had been altered by the censors, who forbid him to allow his surgeon to go mad as a result of his syphilis. But what is even more disappointing is that Kurosawa doesn’t emphasize the fact that, ultimately, the surgeon is the one who is denying his and his loved one’s happiness. He is too focused on showing his forced rejection of a life of love together, and his virginity, as an act of quiet heroism, which like many other of the kind in other films of his, seems to be doomed to go by misunderstood.
The Quiet Duel, at times, feels like an Ingmar Bergman film. But the introspection is widely mismanaged. What remains is a by-the-book adaptation of a changed contemporary Japanese play. Kurosawa does nothing to add his own psychological touch to it. The camera movements remain stable, and yet all too aware of themselves in this theatrical exercise. The lack of interest affect the acting, which instead of taking centre stage, is itself negatively affected.
Toshiro Mifune is only allowed one scene of dramatic prowess – a breakdown, near the end, one, to be sure, which is nothing like what it might have been had the film not been forced to change. As a result, it is awkward and downright bad. Not at all, for instance, like the ending of Throne of Blood.
Despite my disappointment, I must point out that the opening sequence is great. I remember it as a completely different movie. It even has that nice touch of the dripping of rainwater from the ceiling into a container, reminiscent of a similar thing in One Wonderful Sunday (that came before it) and Sergio Leone’s opening to Once Upon a Time in the West (which came after it).
Not to mention that Mifune playing a doctor, after Drunken Angel, and in a completely different performance from the one of his first collaboration with Kurosawa is still worthy of some interest.