Yeah, I know, when it came out DOCTOR ZHIVAGO was hardly overlooked. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won five of them, and it played for 46 straight weeks at the 7th Street Theater in Fort Worth, which was a local record for first-run movie longevity at the time and may still be, for all I know. Of course you have to remember that in those days new movies didn't open simultaneously in a dozen different multiplexes. No, during its run at the 7th Street, that was the only theater in Fort Worth showing DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, so with an auditorium that seated, at a guess, 850 people, it took a lot longer for everybody who wanted to see a movie to get a chance to.
So, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO was popular, no doubt about it. But when was the last time you read anything about it on somebody's blog? Been a while, more than likely. And since this series is often just an excuse for nostalgia on my part, we're going to say that it's overlooked, okay?
When the movie came out I was sort of living with my sister. Not officially, but I spent a lot more time at her house, about a quarter of a mile away from my parents' house, than I did at home. And she was a big fan of thick historical novels (she once said that she bought books by the pound, the bigger the better). So she read Boris Pasternak's novel DOCTOR ZHIVAGO before the movie version came out. Since she was reading it, so did I. As much as I've talked about reading comic books and Doc Savage and Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks when I was a kid, I read other things, too, and I enjoyed big historical novels like that. (No way I'd read anything that long and dense now; I just don't have the patience for it anymore.) I thought DOCTOR ZHIVAGO was pretty darn good. It even sparked an interest in Russian history and literature in me. (Don't worry, I got over it.) So naturally my sister and I went to see the movie when it came out.
Pasternak's novel, for all its literary qualities, was kind of a soap opera. The movie is even more so, the sort of big, glossy, historical epic soap opera that they just don't make anymore. Great photography, a beautiful musical score ("Lara's Theme" was a radio hit, back in the days when radio hits could still be instrumentals), sweeping vistas, battle scenes with thousands of extras, and enough human stories with the right mixture of pathos and optimism to be very involving. The cast, with Omar Sharif playing Zhivago, Julie Christie, Alec Guinness ("These are not the Bolsheviks you're looking for"), Rod Steiger, Tom Courtenay, and a host of others, was pretty good all the way around, although the acting styles were a little overwrought to match the subject matter. I loved it, the same way I loved RICH MAN, POOR MAN about a decade later (and thanks to Patti Abbott for writing about that one last week; lots of good memories). I think I saw DOCTOR ZHIVAGO at least three times in the theater, and I watched it on videotape back in the Eighties and thought it still held up pretty well. I haven't tried it since then.
Modern viewers might find a movie like this a little too slow and stodgy and overdone. But every so often, I need a great storytelling wallow, and I think DOCTOR ZHIVAGO would fit the bill nicely. One of these days, when I have the time . . .