Grant and Sinatra are Cannon Fodder
As a rule I am not into historical period dramas and so with a story set during the Napoleonic wars "The Pride and the Passion" isn't the sort of movie I would normally watch. But what attracted me was that it stars Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant and Sophia Loren and ironically it is that casting of Sinatra and Grant which end up being the movies major weakness. And in fact the story about a group of Spanish Guerrillas using a huge cannon to try and take back control of Avila, the French stronghold ends up being surprisingly interesting. So basically what I hoped would make it entertaining didn't and what I wasn't really interested in ended up interesting.
With Napoleon's army taking control of Spain a group of Spanish Guerrillas plan to use a giant abandoned cannon to take control back from the Spanish by recapturing the French stronghold of Avila. But the Guerrillas lead by Miguel (Frank Sinatra - High Society) and his girl Juana (Sophia Loren) are not the only ones interested in the big cannon as a French General wants it and so does Anthony (Cary Grant - An Affair to Remember) a British Commander sent to Spain to obtain the cannon. Talked in to helping Miguel the Guerrillas transport the cannon across treacherous country to Avila before he can take it, Anthony finds himself falling for the attractive Juana which puts more strain on the already mistrusting relationship that he has with Miguel.
Now I don't know whether there is much truth to the actual story of this big cannon which gets lugged miles across country by a group of Spanish Guerrillas and a British Commander but in a way if it is totally made up it doesn't really matter. And the reason it doesn't matter is because it is interesting to watch how this huge cannon, and it is huge, is transported across country and all the problems that happen along the way. There is an entertaining element of ingenuity to it all as we watch the cannon heaved up hills, lowered down huge slopes and floated across water all of which don't go exactly to plan. And that is even before we get to the exciting assault on the heavily fortified Avila which delivers a splendid action packed ending.
But the journey of this cannon is not the only thing which "The Pride and the Passion" is about as it is also about rivalry as Anthony the British Commander who has been sent to retrieve the cannon before Napoleon gets it is forced to work with Guerrilla leader Miguel. And rather than the cannon being at the centre of this it is Miguel's attractive girl Juana who falls for Anthony and he for her. So we have this simmering jealousy as Miguel realises that something is going on between Juana and Anthony whilst Juana finds herself torn between the two men. It adds a well needed and entertaining layer to the story.
But sadly you have to say that the casting of "The Pride and the Passion" is wrong or at least in the case of Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant as Sophia Loren pulls of the attractive and sexy Juana quite magnificently. When it comes to Sinatra there are a couple of problems and one of those is that he just doesn't look right as a Spanish Guerrilla and the way he looks actually ends up a little laughable. But it also feels like Sinatra's heart wasn't in the movie and he was probably more concerned with his failing marriage to Ava Gardner which was one of the reasons he agreed to appear in the movie, so that he could be in Spain where she was also filming.
But Sinatra is not the only issue as Grant is also wrongly cast as British Commander Anthony and initially the slight humour he is given to deliver feels seriously out of place. It becomes hard to take Grant seriously which to be honest we are meant to do and whilst he shares great chemistry with Sophia Loren aside from that he struggles with the straight laced character. So much so that every now and then a scene seems to have been thrown in to allow Grant to deliver a bit of comedy and it all feels very wrong.
And so ironically it is these performances and the misguided casting which end up causing major problems whilst the actual storyline ends up being surprisingly interesting. And to be honest a part of the reason why the actual story ends up so good is Stanley Kramer's direction who draws us into what is happening. In the scene where they are struggling to pull the cannon up a huge hill you can sense the sheer struggle and energy it took yet you then get the excitement of it careering off down the other side demolishing what ever is in it's way. And even when we don't get the excitement of the hazard littered trek, Kramer gets the pacing spot on and allows you time to breathe and focus on the romantic subplot before then delivering another scene which focuses on the cannon.
What this all boils down to is that "The Pride and the Passion" is a remarkably entertaining movie for the exact opposite reasons I had watched it for. The historical drama of this huge cannon being transported over mountains and through valleys is full of excitement and the romantic subplot brings a nice amount of jealousy and tension to the story. But then you have Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant who are simply wrongly cast in their roles and they end up being the movies weakness. Thank goodness for the casting of Sophia Loren who manages to make the romantic subplot side of things come to life.