Saturday, August 12, 2006


This long-lost film, which re-surfaced in 2003, co-stars two of the biggest silent movie stars, Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson. Unfortunately, it's no classic, though it's also not an embarrassment. Swanson is the youngest daughter of an old sea captain; her older sisters are pressuring her into making a good (financially good, that is) marriage to Robert Bolder, a self-made millionaire who is boring, unattractive, and many years too old for her. When Swanson's canoe tips over during an outing, the Earl of Bracondale (Valentino) saves her. There are sparks between the two, but nothing happens. Swanson gets married and while honeymooning in the Alps, has a climbing accident. Guess who just happens to be on the same mountain and comes to her rescue? Yep, Valentino, this time accompanied by his mother (Edythe Chapman) and a young woman Chapman hopes he will marry (Gertrude Astor). This time, the sparks are harder to deny. Valentino follows Swanson to Paris where Bolder is in the process of providing backing for an African expedition. Bolder is tempted to go along to Africa, but Valentino tells him it would be too dangerous. Swanson, torn between Bolder and Valentino, finally decides to break it off with Valentino, but letters that she sends to the two are switched by the jealous Astor, and when Bolder realizes that she loves Valentino but is still planning to stay in her marriage for his sake, he decides to go to Africa after all. Swanson and Valentino run after him and the triangle is resolved in the desert during an attack of marauding bandits. The material strikes me as about average for a romantic melodrama of the time, as does the acting. Neither of the stars do too much of the overacting (or what seems to us like overacting) that is common to early silent films, and Swanson is even a bit too low-key at times. She also seems too strong and earthy to be fully believable in the role of a passive pawn. The location scenes (certainly shot outdoors, but just as certainly not shot in the Alps or Africa) are effective. The score, written for the restoration, is terrible, way too modern-jazzy, but I did like the sound effects that crop up frequently. This is the first Valentino movie I've seen, and I don't know that I need to see any others, though it might be fun to see one of his Sheik movies for the heck of it. [TCM]

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