Every time I watch Barry Lyndon‘s fist fight scene, my respect for the film and especially director Stanley Kubrick plummets slightly. The combatants, of course, are the quick and agile Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal) and the brawny, red-bearded Corporal Toole (the late Pat Roach), but Kubrick’s instincts as a fight choreographer were atrocious.

Where did Kubrick-the-perfectionist get the idea that the fight would be even half-interesting if O’Neal ducked every wild air-punch thrown by Roach? Roach seems to have been told to fight like a drunken buffoon — to fight like the stupidest, most uncoordinated bare-knuckled boxer in English history and thereby miss O’Neal by several inches each and every time. If Roach had only managed to land a single jaw-blow…if only he’d managed to slug O’Neal once or twice in the chest or the rib cage. But no.

Barry Lyndon Reconsidered“, posted on 5.31.07: Stanley Kubrick “always admitted he took too long to make Barry Lyndon,” former Kubrick assistant Leon Vitali tells The Reeler’s Jamie Stuart. “There was about a year of pre-production, a year-plus of shooting, then he took an awful long time to edit. And by the time it was ready to come out, I would say, the blockbuster action movies had become de rigeur. That was what the people really wanted to see. So when this film came out it was received as strange, slow, completely out of context to what was going on.

“And I think people were expecting something a little closer to A Clockwork Orange, which, of course had caused such a furor. It was living! A Clockwork Orange was playing for over a year in London. And Barry Lyndon was trashed by many critics, equally so in the UK. That really hurt Stanley a lot. He was very depressed about it. Very upset about it. He took it to heart.

“The problem — and this needs to be said (or re-said) with all this passionate but vaguely snobby Lyndon gushing going on — is that Barry Lyndon turns sour at a very particular point. And, in my eyes, it is just a notch below great because of the dead zone section in the second half.

I’m speaking of the moment when Barry (Ryan O’Neal) blows pipe smoke into the face of his wife, Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson). Something happens at that moment, and from then on it’s “oh, odd…the energy is dropping, and I’m starting to enjoy this less.” For another 30 to 40 minutes (or what feels like that amount of time), Barry Lyndon gets slower and slower — it becomes more and more about stately compositions and dispassionate observation.

Then, finally, comes the duel with Lord Bullington (Vitale) and Barry gets his groove back. Then that perfect, dialogue-free scene with Lady Lyndon signing checks with Bullington and Reverent Runt at her side, and she signs the annual payment to her ex-husband. And finally, that perfect epilogue.

There’s one other draggy component that diminishes Barry Lyndon, and in fact makes the dead-zone portion even deader than it needs to be, and that’s Berenson’s performance. Even now, the mere thought of her glacial expression — there’s only one — in that film makes me tighten with irritation.”