Fabulous Baron Munchausen, The (1961)

“The Turks raged like devils as they pursued us, and I had no doubt their fury made my Moon Man’s hair stand on end — as well as frighten the princess. Naturally, this chasing game left me quite unperturbed.”

Fabulous Baron Munchausen Poster

Synopsis:
Baron von Munchausen (Milos Kopecky) and an astronaut (Rudolf Jelanek) travel around the world, rescuing an imprisoned princess (Jana Brejchova) along the way.

Genres:

Review:
Czechoslovakian director Karel Zeman was responsible for some of the most visually innovative fantasies in cinematic history. His unique blend of live action and animation — including the use of Gustave Dore’s intricate illustrations as backdrops — is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before (except, perhaps, in Monty Python films, given that Terry Gilliam is an enormous fan of Zeman’s). It’s impossible to describe the sheer wealth of visual enjoyment Munchausen has to offer; see the stills below for a tasty sampling. The narrative basically consists of one bizarre, humanly impossible adventure after the other, and is written with a droll sense of humor. A love triangle is also woven seamlessly into the proceedings, as Munchausen — who fancies himself quite the ladies’ man — finds himself unable to convince beautiful Princess Bianca (Brejchova) to choose him over the Moon Man. In the end, however, Munchausen remains unperturbed, and ready to take on whatever escapade awaits him next.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The traveling duo’s improbable journey through space, back to the Earth
    Flight
  • A court dancer frolicking with an enormous bunch of grapes
    Grapes
  • Munchausen swimming on his webbed-feet horse
    Swimming
  • A snake emerging from a tapestry to bother the Moon Man and Princess Bianca as they canoodle
    Snake
  • Countless surreal images, blending live-action with animation, and reality with fantasy
    Smoking
  • Many humorous moments — as when the Moon Man discovers the trick behind the Sultan’s protective swords
    Swords
  • Munchausen’s hilariously self-aggrandizing monologues: “At the time I had a tremendous appetite, kept busy night and day as I was by one after the other lovely lady, who succumbed to the charm of my manly eloquence…”
    Ladies
  • Zdenek Liska’s delightful musical score

Must See?
Yes. This inventive fantasy film deserves a much wider audience. It’s listed as both a Cult Movie and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Fabulous Baron Munchausen, The (1961)”

  1. First viewing. A must – and how!!!

    It takes guts to put the word ‘fabulous’ in a film title, and talent to prove that use of the word is justified. From start to finish, ‘Baron’ is indeed fabulous – a no-holds-barred delight, and among the best films ever!

    Just about every frame of director Zeman’s masterpiece is a visual treasure. In terms of imagination, it’s a kind of ‘Wizard of Oz’ for adults. Topped with a luxuriant score, the film has a feel of joyful delirium as it moves from scene to mesmerizing scene. It’s one of those you truly wish you could see in a theater to get the full effect.

    The low-key wit of the film is a particular plus throughout. I do particularly like it when Munchausen is preparing his arrival speech for the Grand Sultan of Turkey and all we hear from him is musical gibberish. When Joey, the Moon Man, remarks that the address is “glorious, but intelligible”, Munchausen responds, “The – the language of diplomacy!” (How true – alas, seldom musical.)

    To say the film influenced Gilliam and Monty Python is an understatement. Fans of the Flying Circus would instantly see how much was owed to Zeman. However, though the tv show used Zeman’s style as a springboard for further unbridled insanity, Gilliam’s film version of the Munchausen story is, unfortunately, labored – to say the least.

    It’s simply incomprehensible that this film is generally unavailable. A petition should be drawn up – where do I sign?!

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