More or less a straightforward A&E Biography on the legendary opera star, Enrico Caruso: Voice of the Century is mostly of interest for its archival footage and period recordings. Otherwise, this is typical of the Biography approach — fact-filled, sketchy on personality and careful not to do or say much of anything that might frighten the horses. There’s little here that would scandalize a junior high student from 1958.
Not that there aren’t points of interest — not least of which is the mere idea that an opera singer could have ever been as popular as he was. That he was as adored in his day as any pop star of modern times is something people are apt to forget.
Far more interesting is a 1918 film, My Cousin, which is being shown in conjunction with the documentary and which stars Caruso in a dual role, no less. The film, directed by Edward Jose (one of eight films he knocked out that year), is a pretty typical — and typically clunky — Famous Players-Lasky production of the time, throwing a little culture at the masses mostly by using an important name in the arts.
The difference here is that Caruso proves to have a genuine screen presence, is surprisingly understated, and is a good enough actor to make completely different characters of the famous opera star Caroli and his impoverished sculptor cousin. The film’s merely OK, but Caruso is fascinating.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke
[The Hendersonville Film Society will show Enrico Caruso: Voice of the Century on Sunday, Sept. 18 at 2 p.m., in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville. (From Asheville, take I-26 to U.S. 64 West and turn right at the third light onto Thompson Street. Follow to the Lake Point Landing entrance and park in the lot at left.)]