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Film / Alexander the Great (1956)

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Alexander the Great is a 1956 historical drama film directed by Robert Rossen, starring Richard Burton, Fredric March, Danielle Darrieux and Claire Bloom.

Philip II of Macedon (March) is campaigning against the Greeks when he hears that his wife Olympias (Darrieux) has given birth to a son, Alexander. Alexander (Burton) grows up and his father gives him more and more responsibilities. When Philip II is assassinated, Alexander succeeds him.

Alexander the Great provides examples of:

  • Abled in the Adaptation: The historical Philip had been injured in his right eye, requiring for it to be surgically removed. The film portrays Philip as still having both eyes, not even wearing an eyepatch.
  • Ancient Grome: As usual with works dealing with his life, the man is referred to by the Latin version of his name rather than the original Hellenic "Alexandros".
  • Assassination Attempt: Philip is killed by Pausanias during a public celebration.
  • Biopic: The film tells the life of Alexander the Great, from his birth to his death.
  • Cutting the Knot: A literal example that is the Trope Namer: Alexander cuts the Gordian Knot that was impossible to undo.
  • Dead Man Writing: Darius writes a will. Alexander reads it after Darius's death. It asks Alexander to marry Roxane.
  • Divine Parentage: Olympias claims that Alexander is the son of a god. Alexander believed her.
  • Driven to Suicide: Eurydice kills herself when her newborn child is sacrificed by Olympias.
  • Due to the Dead: After the Battle of Chaeronea, Philip refuses at first to let the Athenians bury their dead. Then, he changes his mind and orders Alexander to bring the ashes of the dead to Athens and he tells his soldiers to hail all those who died.
  • Egopolis: When he is only a regent, Alexander names a city Alexandropolis.
  • Epic Movie: A 141-minute film telling the life of one of the greatest conquerors of all times, with spectacular reconstructions of battle.
  • Exact Words: Alexander asks who killed Darius and he says: "Let the man who slew my enemy come forward, for I seek to honour him. Let him fear not, for I swear by the gods and by the life of my mother Olympias that I will make him renowned and exalted over my troops." When the man comes forward, Alexander tells him: "I will keep my oath. You will be exalted above my troops. Impaled upon a stake, and there be left for all men to see and remember that only a king may slay a king."
  • A God Am I: Alexander considers that he is the son of a god, and so of divine essence.
  • God-Emperor: Alexander is an emperor and he considers that he is the son of a god, and so of divine essence.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: All the characters have good and bad sides. For example, Alexander is brave, he cares for his father, but he is too ambitious and self-centered. Philip is a brave fighter, he cares for his son, but he is distrustful and brutal. Olympias loves her son and she is right when she fears to be divorced and cast aside, but she is also too ambitious and scheming. Darius is overconfident and contemptuous at first, but he recognizes Alexander's victory and he hopes that he can bring peace between the Greeks and the Persians.
  • Historical Domain Character: Almost all of the cast is made of historical-domain characters: Alexander the Great, Philip II, Barsine, Olympias, Aristotle, Darius, Attalus...
  • King on His Deathbed: In the end, Alexander is on his deathbed. He is asked who should succeed him. He answers that the strongest should.
  • Like Father, Like Son: When Alexander gives back the ring of regency to his father, Philip criticizes him for his ambitions. Then he recognizes that Alexander is as ambitious as himself and he makes up with his son.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Philip II suspects Olympias of being unfaithful. Therefore, he is not sure that Alexander is his son.
  • May–December Romance: Philiph falls for Eurydice, who is one year older than his son Alexander.
  • Mentor Archetype: Aristotle is Alexander's mentor.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: In the prologue, Alexander is still a newborn child. He is a young adult in the bulk of the movie.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: As a king, Alexander considers that he is the only one allowed to kill Darius, another king. Therefore, he executes the Persian who treacherously murdered Darius.
  • Parents in Distress: Alexander saves his father Philip at the Battle of Chaeronea.
  • Parent with New Paramour: Alexander is unhappy with the repudiation of his mother Olympias and the wedding of Philip II with Eurydice.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Done by the Macedonians in Asia Minor. In particular, Alexander rapes Barsine.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: The Persian who murdered Darius, his king. Alexander executes him for that.
  • Rousing Speech: After the murder of his father, Alexander gives a speech to the soldiers to encourage them to recognize him as king and to fight the Persians.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Both Alexander and his father Philip are excellent military leaders.
  • Shoutout:
    • When Alexander is in Mieza with his friends and Aristotle, he reads aloud lines from The Iliad (book 20, line 490) about Achilles.
    • Pausanias quotes Euripides's Medea ("Come take the sword, thou wretched hand of mine.") when he talks with Olympias after being humiliated by Attalus.
    • Before being murdered by Alexander, Cleitus loosely quotes Euripides's Andromache ("Shall one man claim the trophies won by thousands?"). This is Truth in Television: according to Parallel Lives by Plutarch, Cleitus recited a verse of Andromache before being killed.
  • Straight for the Commander: Alexander's strategy at Gaugamela: trying to kill Darius first.
  • Sword and Sandal: The film is set in Ancient Greece and Ancient Persia.
  • Training Montage: There is a montage in the beginning where Alexander an his friends train in various sports (wrestling, running, horse riding, javelin throwing, fencing...) and also receive the teaching of Aristotle.
  • Young Conqueror: Alexander is only 22 years old when he starts conquering Asia. Darius even calls him a child and sends him a ceremonial gift of a ball, for him "to play with boys of his own age."