Dobrý voják Švejk (The Good Soldier Švejk)/Poslušně Hlásím (Beg to Report, Sir)

Much of the bite is missing from this mid-'50s adaptation but Rudolf Hrušínský excels in the Great Czech Novel's title role

Directed by Karel Steklý

Written by Jan Halek

Starring Rudolf Hrušínský, Svatopluk Beneš, Miloš Kopecký

Faithful to the letter if not quite the spirit of the oft-adapted Great Czech Novel, this mid-'50s double-feature version lacks the vulgarity and satiric pungency of its source -- hardly surprising given the time and place of its making -- but under the circumstances it makes a decent fist of Jaroslav Hašek's rollicking anti-war picaresque.

That's largely down to Rudolf Hrušínský, probably the best-loved Czech actor of his generation, who with his moon face and beguiling eyes was born to play Hašek's discursive, deceptively imbecilic World War I doughboy. Ploughing his bumbling furrow to the front, the Švejk of director Karel Steklý and screenwriter Jan Halek is more plodding everyman survivor than Hašek's cunning "idiot," the book's savage absurdity gentled into impish bemusement. But the actors bring off the novel's farcical set pieces with brio, especially Švejk's delirious service with the irreverent Chaplain Katz (a wonderful comic turn by Miloš Kopecký) and his "interrogation" by a preening provincial police chief.

The films' look, at least, is delightfully true to the original, reproducing Josef Lada's peerless Švejk illustrations down to the publican's brushy mustachios and fanciful pipe. And every now and then a hint of Hašek's unregenerate anti-authoritarianism pokes through, as when Švejk comforts a miserable dog he's just nicked from an officer: "Don't be so cross, you silly ass. If you think about it, every soldier has been stolen from his home too."

Year: 1957 & 1958

Runtimes: 1 Hour, 48 Minutes + 1 Hour, 31 Minutes

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